A corporation manufacturing pharmaceutical and biological
products in California discharged an employee on the grounds that
she was an active member of the Communist Party and had falsified
her application for employment. Her union sought her reinstatement
before an arbitration board pursuant to a valid collective
bargaining agreement which authorized discharge for "just cause"
only. Finding that she was an active member of the Communist Party
and had falsified her application for employment, but that these
grounds for discharge had been waived by the employer and that she
actually was discharged for union activities, the board ordered her
reinstatement. The lower California courts affirmed this order, but
the Supreme Court of California reversed. Certiorari was granted by
this Court on a petition contending that the decision and opinion
violated the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the
Fourteenth Amendment. Upon an analysis of the record, however, it
appeared that the Supreme Court of California construed the term
"just cause" to embrace membership in the Communist Party, and
refused to apply a doctrine of waiver.
the decision involves only California's
construction of a local contract under local law, no substantial
federal question is presented, and the writ of certiorari is
dismissed. Pp. 351 U. S.
(a) This Court reviews judgments, not statements in opinions,
and it will not pass on federal questions discussed in the opinion
of a state court where it appears that the judgment rests on
adequate state grounds. Pp. 351 U. S.
(b) The scope of review of the findings of the arbitration board
under the California Arbitration Act is a matter exclusively for
the courts of that State. P. 351 U. S.
(c) The Supreme Court of California construed the term "just
cause" to embrace membership in the Communist Party, and refused to
apply a doctrine of waiver. Pp. 351 U. S.
(d) Such a decision involves only California's construction of a
local contract under local law, and no substantial federal question
is presented. P. 351 U. S.
Writ of certiorari dismissed.
Page 351 U. S. 293
MR. JUSTICE CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court.
In 1949, Mrs. Doris Walker was discharged from her job at Cutter
Laboratories, a manufacturer of pharmaceutical and biological
products, on the claimed grounds that she was an active member of
the Communist Party and had falsified her application for
employment there. [Footnote
Page 351 U. S. 294
Petitioner, Bio-Lab Union of Local 225, United Office &
Professional Workers of America, sought reinstatement for Mrs.
Walker before an Arbitration Board pursuant to a valid collective
bargaining agreement which authorized
Page 351 U. S. 295
discharge for "just cause" only. The Board determined that she
had been discharged for union activity, and, by a vote of 2 to 1,
ordered her reinstatement. The Superior Court of San Francisco
County confirmed the award and ordered it enforced. On appeal, the
District Court of Appeal affirmed. The Supreme Court of California,
however, reversed. 43 Cal. 2d
, 278 P.2d 905. Petitioners contend that the decision and
opinion below violate constitutional principles embraced in the
Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth
Amendment. We granted certiorari, 350 U.S. 816.
Page 351 U. S. 296
Before Mrs. Walker applied for a job at the Cutter plant, she
had graduated from law school, worked for three years as an
attorney for the Office of Price Administration and in private
practice, and had been discharged for union activity from jobs in
three different canneries. All of these facts, she readily admitted
to the Board, were concealed or misrepresented by her in the Cutter
employment application in 1946. In addition, she admitted that she
had falsely stated that she had been employed as a file clerk in
1939 by one John Trippe, attorney. She told the Board that no such
person or employment had existed. The character references she
listed had been warned by her of the omissions and falsifications
in her application, and, at her request, they did not disclose her
true background to Cutter. These falsifications and omissions were
not discovered until after she had been employed as a label clerk
by the Cutter plant and the "probationary period" had expired.
The Arbitration Board found that Mrs. Walker had played an
active role in union activities at the Cutter plant. In 1947, she
became a shop chairman and a member of the executive board of the
Local. The following year, she was elected chief shop steward, and
her activities were extended to all manufacturing departments of
the Laboratory. She became president of the Local in the spring of
1949, and was holding that office at the time of her discharge. The
Board also found that Mrs. Walker was a member of the Communist
Party during the period of her employment. Cutter had investigated
her in 1947 and 1949, and had discovered evidence of Communist
Party membership and also that she had falsified her employment
application. The Board's finding of Communist Party membership was
based on evidence uncovered in the Cutter investigations plus Mrs.
Page 351 U. S. 297
refusal to answer questions relating to membership and the
Union's offer to stipulate that the company could reasonably have
concluded that she was a Communist. [Footnote 2
The Board took the "view of the record" that Cutter honestly
believed that Mrs. Walker had falsified her application and was a
member of the Party. But it held that, "while an employer may have
sufficient grounds for a discharge", he "should not be entitled to
carry mutually known grounds for discharge in [his] hip pocket
indefinitely for future convenient use." It found Cutter's grounds
to be "stale," and concluded that Mrs. Walker was unjustly
discharged, and that this action of Cutter
"interfered with, restrained and coerced an employee because of
participation as an officer and negotiator on behalf of the Union
in a wage negotiation."
The majority opinion of the Supreme Court of California contains
broad statements to the effect that specific performance of the
arbitration award would violate the public policy of the State.
Petitioner's constitutional arguments are based on the belief that
these statements establish the ground on which the judgment below
was based, and that therefore the decision below not only
establishes a conclusive presumption of advocacy of violence from
the mere fact of membership in the Communist Party, but renders
unenforceable substantially all contracts entered into by members
of the Party.
This Court, however, reviews judgments, not statements in
opinions. Herb v. Pitcairn, 324 U.
, 324 U. S.
-126; Morrison v. Watson, 154 U.
, 154 U. S. 115
Page 351 U. S. 298
12 Wheat. 117, 25 U. S. 118
25 U. S. 120
At times, the atmosphere in which an opinion is written may become
so surcharged that unnecessarily broad statements are made. In such
a case, it is our duty to look beyond the broad sweep of the
language and determine for ourselves precisely the ground on which
the judgment rests. This means no more than that we should not pass
on federal questions discussed in the opinion where it appears that
the judgment rests on adequate state grounds. Herb v. Pitcairn,
supra; Williams v. Kaiser, 323 U. S. 471
323 U. S.
It is significant that the Supreme Court of California did not
limit itself to a discussion of the application of the California
public policy. It also subjected the findings of the Arbitration
Board to a scrutinizing review. Of course, the scope of review of
such findings under the California Arbitration Act is a matter
exclusively for the courts of that State, and is not our concern.
Allen-Bradley Local v. Wisconsin Employment Relations
Board, 315 U. S. 740
315 U. S.
First, the court determined that, since Mrs. Walker was a
continuing member of the Communist Party, the doctrine of waiver
could not be applied to this ground for discharge. The court noted
that Mrs. Walker had remained a member of the Party "on an active
and devoted basis even at the time of the board hearings."
] 43 Cal. 2d 807,
278 P.2d 916.
Second, it is clear that the individual parties might have
agreed that the circumstance of Communist Party membership would
constitute "just cause" under the contract, and no federal question
would thereby be raised. It is implicit in the Arbitration Board's
opinion that this
Page 351 U. S. 299
was a reasonable construction of the contract, but since it
applied a doctrine of waiver, no explicit findings on this point
were made. But, as we read the opinion of the Supreme Court of
California, after concluding that waiver could not be applied to
the facts of this case, it decided that the "just cause" provision
of the contract permitted discharge on the ground of Communist
Party membership, and that Mrs. Walker was discharged on that
ground. The court stated,
"The contract between Cutter Laboratories and the Bio-Lab Union
cannot be construed, and will not be enforced, to protect
activities by a Communist on behalf of her party whether in the
guise of unionism of otherwise."
At another point, the court noted that
"an entirely adequate ground [Party membership] for refusing to
employ her (whether by original refusal to hire or by discharge)
was a continuing one which was available to the employer at any
time during its existence."
43 Cal. 2d 807, 278 P.2d 916. In this connection, it might also
be noted that the court below discussed the history of the clause
in the contract which prohibited discrimination "because of race,
color, creed, national origin, religious belief, or Union
affiliation." At one time, the word "political" as well as
"religious belief" was included in the provision, but, by
negotiation, it was deleted.
We believe that the Supreme Court of California construed the
term "just cause" to embrace membership in the Communist Party, and
refused to apply a doctrine of waiver. As such, the decision
involves only California's construction of a local contract under
local law, and therefore no substantial federal question is
presented. Moreover, even if the State Court's opinion be
considered ambiguous, we should choose the interpretation which
does not face us with a constitutional question. See
Page 351 U. S. 300
Stembridge v. Georgia, 343 U.
, 343 U. S. 547
and cases cited. Cf. United States v. Rumely, 345 U. S.
. It follows that the writ must be
MR. JUSTICE REED would affirm the judgment below.
At the time of discharge, a written notice was read to Mrs.
Walker by a company official in the presence of another company
official, an assistant shop steward of the union, and a company
stenographer. The notice read as follows:
"As you are aware, the company has known for some time that,
when you applied for work with Cutter Laboratories on October 4,
1946, you made a number of false representations on your
'Application for Employment.'"
"As we know now, you falsified the statement of your education
so as to conceal the fact that you had completed a law school
course at the University of California's School of Jurisprudence at
Berkeley in May, 1942. You concealed the facts that you received
the degree of Bachelor of Laws in May, 1942, and that you were
admitted to the State Bar of California on December 8, 1942. You
concealed that, since that date, you have at all times been
admitted and entitled to practice as an attorney before all of the
Courts of California."
"We know now that, by falsification of the name of a previous
employer, you concealed the fact that, from June, 1942, to
February, 1944, you were employed by the Federal Government's
Office of Price Administration, including employment as an
Enforcement Attorney at a salary of about $3,200.00 a year."
"We know now that you deliberately concealed from us that, from
February, 1944, to December, 1945, you were employed as an attorney
by Gladstein, Grossman, Sawyer and Edises, a well known firm of
lawyers specializing in labor cases."
"You know that, a few weeks ago, the 'Labor Herald,' the
official CIO newspaper, stated that the National Labor Relations
Board had sustained a cannery firm that had discharged you for
refusing to answer whether or not you were a Communist."
"We have checked the records. We know now that you deliberately
concealed that, in 1946, just before you applied for work here, you
were employed by a series of canneries, and had been discharged by
"Ordinarily, an employee of the Company would be discharged
immediately for falsifying material facts on an 'Application for
Employment.' Because you were an officer of the Union, we kept you
on the payroll rather than open ourselves to a charge of
persecuting a union officer. We have given your case careful
consideration because we know very well that, no matter how strong
the case against you, there will be a claim of discrimination
because of union activities."
"Because no employer wants to become involved in a dispute of
that kind, we have been patient and deliberate in our consideration
of your misconduct."
"On October 1, 1948, when you testified under oath before a
Trial Examiner of the National Labor Relations Board, you refused
to answer the question as to whether or not you were a member of
the Communist Party."
"You refused to answer under oath the question as to whether or
not you were or had been a member of the Federal Workers' Branch
No. 3 of the Communist Party."
"You refused to testify under oath whether or not you were or
had been a member of the South Side Professional Club of the
"We are convinced now that you were and still are a member of
the Communist Party, that you were a member of the Federal Workers'
Branch No. 3 of the Communist Party, and that you were a member of
the South Side Professional Club of the Communist Party."
"Our recent investigation of your past record has uncovered
previously unknown conduct that goes far beyond a mere concealment
of material facts. We have just completed a thorough investigation,
and have a full report upon you past activities. We realize now the
importance of the facts that you concealed from us. We realize the
full implications of your falsification and misrepresentations. A
follow-up and investigation of the 'Labor Herald's' recent
revelations has uncovered a situation far more grave than we
"We are convinced now that, for a number of years, you have been
and still are a member of the Communist Party. We are convinced
beyond any question that, for a number of years, you have
participated actively in the Communist Party's activities."
"The nature of our company's business requires more than the
usual precaution against sabotage and subversion. Upon a disclosure
that any employee is a member of the Communist Party, or has
participated in other subversive or revolutionary activity, we
conceive it to be the responsibility of management to take
"Confronted with such a situation, any inclination to be lenient
or to grant a union official special consideration is out. In the
face of your record, there is no alternative open to us except to
terminate your services at once. Accordingly, you are notified now
that you are discharged for the causes mentioned. You will be paid
the full amount due to you promptly."
Since the Board was authorized to inquire into the reasons for
her discharge and the questions were, as it ruled, relevant to the
issue, it could draw such inferences as were warranted. In this
respect, the case is unlike Slochower v. Board of
Education, 350 U. S. 551
While the court also spoke of its public policy in reaching this
conclusion, its reasoning outlined above amply supports its
MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE and MR. JUSTICE
BLACK concur, dissenting.
I believe, with all deference, that the decision of the Court
abuses the rule that we will not undertake to review a decision of
a state court that rests on an independent state ground. No
independent state ground is present in this case. Rather, it is
easily demonstrated, I think, that the decision of the Supreme
Court of California squarely and directly raises an important
question under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
At times we have ambiguous opinions that make us unsure of the
precise grounds of the decision of the state court. In this case,
however, we are left in no doubt. The arbitrators found that the
employer discharged this worker because of her labor union
activities, using the charge of Communism as a mere pretext. The
Supreme Court of California went on no such ground. It is clear
from a reading of its opinion, 43 Cal. 2d
, 278 P.2d 905, that it approved the employer's discharge of
this worker because she was a Communist. The tactics of Communists
and the dangers of Communism make up a total of 11 pages of the
21-page majority opinion of the Supreme Court. Among other things,
the Supreme Court of California said:
"From the array of congressional and legislative findings which
have been quoted above, if not from the common knowledge of
mankind, it must be accepted as conclusively established that a
member of the Communist Party cannot be loyal to his private
employer as against
Page 351 U. S. 301
any directive of his Communist master."
43 Cal. 2d at 806, 278 P.2d at 916. It went on to
hold that "acts of sabotage by Communists are reasonably to be
expected at any time such acts may be directed by the party
43 Cal. 2d at 807, 278 P.2d at 916, and that
an employer has the
"right to discharge employees who upon the established facts are
dedicated to be disloyal to him, to be likewise disloyal to the
American labor union they may purport to serve, and who constitute
a continuing risk to both the employing company and the public
depending upon the company's products."
43 Cal. 2d at 807, 278 P.2d at 917.
The arbitrators found that any grievance against Doris Walker
was a stale one, the employer having known all her Communist
activities for two years. The Superior Court upheld that finding.
The District Court of Appeal ruled that the employer "sat back for
two and a half years" and then used her Communist activities as an
excuse for injuring the union in its lawful labor activity. 266
P.2d 92, 100. But the Supreme Court held that she was discharged
not for her "labor union activities," but for her "Communist Party
activities." 43 Cal. 2d at 808, 278 P.2d at 917. It said that the
fact that the employer, knowing all the facts, did nothing for two
years was irrelevant, since it was against the "public policy" of
California to conclude that there was a waiver by the failure to
discharge a Communist. Id.,
43 Cal. 2d at 806, 278 P.2d at
916. It is plain, therefore, that the judgment of the Supreme Court
of California sustains a discharge of this worker because she was a
The Court says that the parties to a collective bargaining
agreement may make Communist Party membership "just cause" for
discharge of an employee, that discharge for that reason is merely
a matter of contract between the union, on the one hand, and the
employer, on the other, and that, when the contract is enforced, no
federal right is
Page 351 U. S. 302
infringed. I disagree with that doctrine. It is a dangerous
innovation to meet the exigencies of the present case. It violates
First Amendment guarantees of citizens who are workers in our
I can better illustrate my difficulty by a hypothetical case. A
union enters into a collective bargaining agreement with an
employer that allows any employee who is a Republican to be
discharged for "just cause." Employers can, of course, hire whom
they choose, arranging for an all-Democratic labor force if they
But the courts
may not be implicated in such a discriminatory scheme. Once the
courts put their imprimatur on such a contract, government,
speaking through the judicial branch, acts. Shelley v.
Kraemer, 334 U. S. 1
Barrows v. Jackson, 346 U. S. 249
it is governmental action that the Constitution controls. Certainly
neither a State nor the Federal Government could adopt a political
test for workers in defense plants or other factories. It is
elementary that freedom of political thought is protected by the
Fourteenth Amendment against interference by the States,
DeJonge v. Oregon, 299 U. S. 353
299 U. S.
-365, and against federal regimentation by the First
Government may not favor one political group over another.
Government may not disqualify one political group from employment.
And if the courts lend their support to any such discriminatory
program, Shelley v. Kraemer, supra,
teaches that the
Government has thrown
Page 351 U. S. 303
its weight behind an unconstitutional scheme to discriminate
against citizens by reason of their political ideology. That cannot
be done in America, unless we forsake our Bill of Rights.
It has hitherto been assumed that Communists, except and unless
they violate laws, are entitled to the same civil rights as other
citizens. In 1937, Chief Justice Hughes wrote to that effect for a
unanimous Court in DeJonge v. Oregon, supra.
held that a State could not punish Communists for having a public
meeting to discuss a matter of public concern. Chief Justice Hughes
said that First Amendment rights might be abused "to incite to
violence and crime." Id.
at 299 U. S. 364
But he went on to say,
"The people, through their Legislatures, may protect themselves
against that abuse. But the legislative intervention can find
constitutional justification only by dealing with the abuse. The
rights themselves must not be curtailed. The greater the importance
of safeguarding the community from incitements to the overthrow of
our institutions by force and violence, the more imperative is the
need to preserve inviolate the constitutional rights of free
speech, free press, and free assembly in order to maintain the
opportunity for free political discussion, to the end that
government may be responsive to the will of the people and that
changes, if desired, may be obtained by peaceful means. Therein
lies the security of the Republic, the very foundation of
at 299 U. S.
Cutter Laboratories is an important pharmaceutical factory. It
may need special protection. It may need to establish safeguards
against sabotage and adulteration. It may need special screening of
its employees. But there is not a word in the present record
indicating that it needs protection against Doris Walker. She has
no criminal record. She is guilty of no adulteration, no
Page 351 U. S. 304
act of sabotage. The factory in question has not been plagued
with any such problem. It is only the fear that Doris Walker might,
at a future time, engage in sabotage that is made the excuse for
her discharge. I do not think we can hold, consistently with our
Bill of Rights, that Communists can be proscribed from making a
living on the assumption that, wherever they work, the incidence of
sabotage rises, or that the danger from Communist employees is too
great for critical industry to bear.
The blunt truth is that Doris Walker is not discharged for
misconduct, but either because of her legitimate labor union
activities or because of her political ideology or belief. Belief
cannot be penalized consistently with the First Amendment. As Mr.
Justice Roberts wrote for a unanimous Court in Cantwell v.
Connecticut, 310 U. S. 296
310 U. S.
-304, the First Amendment
"embraces two concepts -- freedom to believe and freedom to act.
The first is absolute, but, in the nature of things, the second
cannot be. Conduct remains subject to regulation for the protection
The Court today allows belief, not conduct, to be regulated. We
sanction a flagrant violation of the First Amendment when we allow
California, acting through her highest court, to sustain Mrs.
Walker's discharge because of her belief.
* A union has no such liberty if it operates with the sanction
of the State or the Federal Government behind it. It is then the
agency by which governmental policy is expressed, and may not make
discriminations that the Government may not make. See Steele v.
Louisville & N. R. Co., 323 U. S. 192
Tunstall v. Brotherhood, 323 U. S. 210
Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen v. Howard, 343 U.
; Ford Motor Co. v. Huffman, 345 U.
, 345 U. S. 337
Syres v. Oil Workers Union,
350 U.S. 892,
223 F.2d 739; Railway Employes' Dept. v.
Hanson, 351 U. S. 225