United Public Workers v. Mitchell
330 U.S. 75 (1947)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United Public Workers v. Mitchell, 330 U.S. 75 (1947)

United Public Workers v. Mitchell

No. 20

Argued December 3, 1945

Reargued October 17, 1946

Decided February 10, 1947

330 U.S. 75


1. Under § 3 of the Act of August 24, 1937, 50 Stat. 752, 28 U.S.C. § 380a, a direct appeal to this Court was taken from a judgment of a district court of three judges denying an injunction in a case involving the constitutionality of a federal statute. The case was not docketed in this Court until after 60 days from the time the appeal was allowed. The steps prescribed by Rule 11 of this Court for obtaining a dismissal were not taken by the appellees.

Held: This Court has jurisdiction of the appeal. Pp. 330 U. S. 84-86.

(a) The provision of 28 U.S.C. § 380a requiring an appeal thereunder to be docketed in this Court within 60 days from the time the appeal is allowed was not intended to vary Rule 11 of this Court, and does not constitute a limitation on the power of this Court to hear this appeal. Pp. 330 U. S. 85-86.

(b) Rule 47 of this Court requires the same practice for appeals under 28 U.S.C. § 380a that Rule 11 does for other appeals. P. 330 U. S. 86.

2. Certain employees of the executive branch of the Federal Government sued for an injunction against the members of the Civil Service Commission to prohibit them from enforcing against such employees § 9(a) of the Hatch Act, 18 U.S.C. Supp. V § 61h, which forbids such employees from taking "any active part in political management or in political campaigns," and also for a declaratory judgment of the unconstitutionality of this section. They did not allege that they had violated the Act or that they actually were threatened with any disciplinary action, but only that they desire to engage in acts of political management and in political campaigns (specifying the nature of the actions which they wish to take) and are prevented from doing so by fear of dismissal from federal employment.

Held: Their suit does not present a justiciable case or controversy. Pp. 330 U. S. 86-91.

3. Another employee of the executive branch of the Federal Government brought a similar suit, alleging that he actually had committed

Page 330 U. S. 76

specific violations of the Act, and that the Commission had charged him with violations and had issued a proposed order for his removal, subject to his right to reply to the charges and to present further evidence in refutation.

Held: His suit presents a justiciable case or controversy. Pp. 330 U. S. 91-94.

(a) Since the employee admits that he violated the Act and that removal from office is therefore mandatory under the Act, there is no question as to exhaustion of administrative remedies. P. 330 U. S. 93.

(b) There being no administrative or statutory review for the Commission's order and no prior proceeding pending in the courts, there is no reason why a declaratory judgment action does not lie, even though constitutional issues are involved. P. 330 U. S. 93.

4. A person employed as a roller in a United States mint acted outside of working hours as a ward executive committeeman of a political party and was politically active on election day as a worker at the polls and as a paymaster for the services of other workers. The Civil Service Commission found that he had taken an "active part in political management or in political campaigns" in violation of § 9 of the Hatch Act, 18 U.S.C.Supp. V § 61h, and Rule 1 of the Commission, and issued an order for his removal from federal employment.

Held: Such a breach of the Hatch Act and Rule 1 of the Commission can be made the basis for disciplinary action without violating the Constitution. Pp. 330 U. S. 94-104.

(a) Congress has the power to regulate, within reasonable limits, the political conduct of federal employees, in order to promote efficiency and integrity in the public service. Ex parte Curtis, 106 U. S. 371; United States v. Wurzbach, 280 U. S. 396. Pp. 330 U. S. 96-103.

(b) The fundamental human rights guaranteed by the First, Fifth, Ninth and Tenth Amendments are not absolute, and this Court must balance the extent of the guarantee of freedom against a congressional enactment to protect a democratic society against the supposed evil of political partisanship by employees of the Government. Pp. 330 U. S. 95-96.

(c) The Hatch Act permits full participation by federal employees in political decisions at the ballot box, and forbids only the partisan activity deemed offensive to efficiency. P. 330 U. S. 99.

(d) It does not restrict public and private expressions on public affairs, personalities, and matters of public interest, not an objective of party action, so long as the government employee does not direct his activities toward party success. P. 330 U. S. 100.

(e) If political activity by government employees is harmful

Page 330 U. S. 77

to the service, the employees, or people dealing with them, it is hardly less so because it takes place after hours. P. 330 U. S. 95.

(f) The prohibition of § 9(a) of the Hatch Act applies without discrimination to all employees of the executive branch of the Government, whether industrial or administrative. P. 330 U. S. 102.

(g) Whatever differences there may be between administrative employees of the Government and industrial workers in its employ are differences in detail for the consideration of Congress, so far as the constitutional power here involved is concerned. P. 330 U. S. 102.

(h) The determination of the extent to which political activities of government employees shall be regulated lies primarily with Congress, and the courts will interfere only when such regulation passes beyond the generally existing conception of governmental power. P. 330 U. S. 102.

5. Acting as ward executive committeeman of a political party and as a worker at the polls is within the prohibitions of § 9 of the Hatch Act and the Civil Service Rules. P. 330 U. S. 103.

56 F.Supp. 621, affirmed.

Certain employees of the executive branch of the Federal Government and a union of such employees sued to enjoin the members of the Civil Service Commission from enforcing the provision of § 9(a) of the Hatch Act, 18 U.S.C. Supp. V § 61h, which forbids such employees to take "any active part in political management or in political campaigns," and for a declaratory judgment holding the Act unconstitutional. The District Court dismissed the suit. 56 F.Supp. 621. A direct appeal to this Court was taken under § 3 of the Act of August 24, 1937, 50 Stat. 752, 28 U.S.C. § 380a. Affirmed, p. 330 U. S. 104.

Page 330 U. S. 78

Primary Holding

The presence of concrete facts or evidence regarding conduct that is established to have happened is necessary before a court can issue a declaratory judgment.


The United Public Workers of America, together with federal civil service employees, sought a declaratory judgment that a section of the Hatch Act was unconstitutional in an action brought against the United States Civil Service Commission. They also requested an injunction that would prevent the Commission from enforcing the section of the law that was allegedly unconstitutional. It prevented federal civil service employees from being involved in political management or campaigns, similar to a Civil Service Rule that the plaintiffs also argued was unconstitutional. While George Poole stated that he had already violated the Hatch Act provision at issue, the other employees were challenging it so that they could engage in political management and campaigns moving forward.

The lower court refused to grant the Commission's motion to dismiss, which it had brought on the basis that the complaint had failed to state a justiciable case or controversy. However, the lower court eventually ruled in favor of the Commission that the Hatch Act provision was valid and issued summary judgment. The Commission argued on the appeal to the Supreme Court that, notwithstanding the judgment of the lower court, the case failed to present a justiciable controversy because Poole was the only individual who had violated the Act.



  • Stanley Forman Reed (Author)
  • Frederick Moore Vinson
  • Harold Hitz Burton

Courts should not intervene in situations such as these, for all that they can do is issue an advisory opinion in response to a hypothetical alleged threat. This is not a proper basis for judicial action, since the conduct that is challenged may never occur. The exception is in the case of Poole, who did allege facts that give rise to a justiciable controversy. However, the law was valid as applied to him, so he is entitled to neither declaratory nor injunctive relief for violating it.


  • Hugo Lafayette Black (Author)

The Act is invalid as applied to all of the plaintiffs, and all of them allege facts that give rise to a justiciable controversy.

Concurrence/Dissent In Part

  • William Orville Douglas (Author)

If the employees had engaged in conduct forbidden by the Hatch Act, they would have been fired. They alleged sufficient facts to show that they wished to engage in this type of conduct and that it would result in their termination. As a result, there is a justiciable controversy here, and they should not be required to put their jobs on the line by violating the law so that they can have their day in court. This would defeat the purpose of a declaratory judgment and result in the irreparable harm that an injunction is designed to prevent.


  • Felix Frankfurter (Author)


  • Wiley Blount Rutledge (Author)


  • Frank Murphy (Author)
  • Robert Houghwout Jackson

Case Commentary

If there no clear facts from which to understand a dispute, the Court has no grounds on which to base a decision. Although declaratory judgments are somewhat abstract by nature, basing them on abstract speculation would be unfair to the rights of future parties affected by the law.

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