The Warren Court (1953–69)
Criminal Procedure and Constitutional Rights
How did the Warren Court rule in criminal and constitutional cases involving communists?
Communism was a major world threat in the eyes of the United States and its allies. The Warren Court existed during the time of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. Thus, it is not surprising that the Court had the opportunity to rule in many cases involving communists or laws that impacted suspected communists. Some of these included:
Yates v. United States (1957): The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the conviction of fourteen Communist Party leaders under the Smith Act. The Court reasoned that the jury instructions failed to distinguish between the teaching of abstract doctrine and the organized planning for the overthrow of the U.S. government.
Barenblatt v. United States (1959): The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the government did not violate the First Amendment rights of an individual who was forced to testify about his relationship to the Communist Party before the House Committee on Un-American Activities.
Communist Party v. Subversive Activities Control Board (1961): The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the registration requirements of the McCarran Act, a 1950 law designed to compel the Communist Party to register and provide information about its organization.
Scales v. United States (1961): The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the conviction of an active member of the Communist Party. The Court reasoned that the membership clauses of the Smith Act did not violate the First Amendment because the statute applied to individuals who were actively seeking the overthrow of the U.S. government.
Albertson v. Subversive Activities Control Board (1965): The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that orders of the Subversive Activities Control Board, created to monitor the Communist Party, requiring members of the Communist Party to register violated the members’ Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.
Elfbrandt v. Russell (1966): The U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a loyalty oath program for Arizona state employees that made it a violation to be a member of the Communist Party.
U.S. v. Robel (1967): The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a provision of the Subversive Activities Control Act that prohibits any person who is a member of the Communist Party from working at a defense facility. “The statute quite literally establishes guilt by association alone, without any need to establish that an individual’s association poses the threat feared by the Government in proscribing it,” the Court explained.
Keyishian v. Board of Regents (1967): The U.S. Supreme Court struck down New York regulations that barred the employment of “subversive” teachers and professors in the state. The state had applied the regulations to bar employment of those who were or had been members of the Communist Party. The Court ruled that the regulations were too vague and infringed on academic freedom.