United States v. Brown
381 U.S. 437 (1965)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Brown, 381 U.S. 437 (1965)

United States v. Brown

No. 399

Argued March 29, 1965

Decided June 7, 1965

381 U.S. 437

Syllabus

Respondent was convicted under §504 of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959, which makes it a crime for one who belongs to the Communist Party or who has been a member thereof during the preceding five years wilfully to serve as a member of the executive board of a labor organization. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding § 504 violative of the First and Fifth Amendments.

Held: Section 504 constitutes a bill of attainder, and is therefore unconstitutional. Pp. 381 U. S. 441-462.

(a) The Bill of Attainder Clause, Art. I, § 9, cl. 3, was intended to implement the separation of powers among the three branches of the Government by guarding against the legislative exercise of judicial power. Pp. 381 U. S. 441-446.

(b) The Bill of Attainder Clause is to be liberally construed in the light of its purpose to prevent legislative punishment of designated persons or groups. Cummins v. Missouri, 4 Wall. 277; Ex parte Garland, 4 Wall. 333; United States v. Lovett,328 U. S. 303. Pp. 381 U. S. 447-449.

(c) In designating Communist Party members as those persons who cannot hold union office, Congress has exceeded its Commerce Clause power to enact generally applicable legislation disqualifying from positions affecting interstate commerce persons who may use such positions to cause political strikes. Pp. 381 U. S. 449-452.

(d) Section 504 is distinguishable from such conflict of interest statutes as § 32 of the Banking Act, where Congress was legislating with respect to general characteristics, rather than with respect to the members of a specific group. Pp. 381 U. S. 453-455.

(e) The designation of Communist Party membership cannot be justified as an alternative, "shorthand" expression for the characteristics which render men likely to incite political strikes. Pp. 381 U. S. 455-456.

(f) A statute which inflicts its deprivation upon named or described persons or groups constitutes a bill of attainder whether its aim is retributive, punishing past acts, or preventive, discouraging future conduct. In America Communications Ass'n v. Douds,339 U. S. 382, where the Court upheld § 9(h) of the National

Page 381 U. S. 438

Labor Relations Act, the predecessor of § 504, the Court erroneously assumed that only a law visiting retribution for past acts could constitute a bill of attainder, and misread the statute involved in United States v. Lovett,328 U. S. 303, which it sought to distinguish from § 9(h), as being in that category. Pp. 381 U. S. 456-460.

(g) The legislative specification of those to whom the enacted sanction is to apply invalidates a provision as a bill of attainder whether the individuals are designated by name, as in Lovett, or by description, as here. Pp. 381 U. S. 461-462.

334 F.2d 488, affirmed.

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