Cole v. Young
351 U.S. 536 (1956)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Cole v. Young, 351 U.S. 536 (1956)

Cole v. Young

No. 442

Argued March 6, 1956

Decided June 11, 1956

351 U.S. 536

Syllabus

The Act of August 26, 1950, gave to the heads of certain departments and agencies of the Government summary suspension and unreviewable dismissal powers over their civilian employees, when deemed necessary "in the interest of the national security," and its provisions were extended to "all other departments and agencies of the Government" by Executive Order No. 10450. Petitioner, a preference-eligible veteran under the Veterans' Preference Act, was summarily suspended from his classified civil service position as a food and drug inspector for the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare on charges of close association with alleged Communists and an allegedly subversive organization. Later, he was dismissed on the ground that his continued employment was not "clearly consistent with the interests of national security." His appeal to the Civil Service Commission under the Veterans' Preference Act was denied on the ground that that Act was inapplicable to such discharges.

Held: his discharge was not authorized by the 1950 Act, and hence it violated the Veterans' Preference Act. Pp. 351 U. S. 538-558.

1. The 1950 Act authorizes a dismissal only upon a determination that it is "necessary or advisable in the interest of the national security." Such a determination requires an evaluation of the risk to the "national security" that the employee's retention would create, which depends not only upon the character of the employee and the likelihood of his misconducting himself, but also upon the nature of the position he occupies and its relationship to the "national security." P. 351 U. S. 542.

2. The 1950 Act is not the only, nor even the primary, source of authority to dismiss government employees, and the question in this case is not whether an employee can be dismissed on such grounds, but only the extent to which the summary procedures authorized by the 1950 Act are available in such a case. Pp. 351 U. S. 543-544.

3. This depends on the meaning of the term "national security," as used in the 1950 Act. Pp. 351 U. S. 542-544.

Page 351 U. S. 537

4. The term "national security" is not defined in that Act, but it is clear from the statute as a whole that it was intended to comprehend only those activities of the Government that are directly concerned with the protection of the Nation from internal subversion or foreign aggression, and not those which contribute to the strength of the Nation only through their impact on the general welfare. Pp. 351 U. S. 544-548.

5. This conclusion is supported by the legislative history of the Act. Pp. 351 U. S. 548-551.

6. A condition precedent to the exercise of the dismissal authority conferred by the 1950 Act is a determination by the agency head that the position occupied is one affected with the "national security," as that term is used in the Act. P. 351 U. S. 551.

7. No determination was made that petitioner's position was one in which he could adversely affect the "national security," as that term is used in the Act. Pp. 351 U. S. 551-558.

(a) Executive Order No. 10450 treats an adverse determination as to the loyalty of an employee as satisfying the statute, irrespective of the character of his job or the effect his continued employment might have upon the "national security." Pp. 351 U. S. 551-556.

(b) The failure of the Executive Order to state explicitly what was meant is the fault of the Government, and any ambiguities should be resolved against the Government. P. 351 U. S. 556.

(c) From the Secretary's determination that petitioner's employment was not "clearly consistent with the interests of national security," in the light of the Executive Order, it may be assumed only that the Secretary found the charges to be true, and that they created reasonable doubt as to petitioner's loyalty. Pp. 351 U. S. 556-557.

96 U.S.App.D.C. 379, 226 F.2d 337, reversed and remanded.

Page 351 U. S. 538

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