Elfbrandt v. Russell,
384 U.S. 11 (1966)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Elfbrandt v. Russell, 384 U.S. 11 (1966)

Elfbrandt v. Russell

No. 656

Argued February 24, 1966

Decided April 18, 1966

384 U.S. 11


State employees in Arizona must take an oath to support the Federal and State Constitutions and state laws. Under a legislative gloss put on the oath, an employee is subject to prosecution for perjury and discharge from office if he "knowingly and willfully becomes or remains a member of the communist party of the United States or its successors or any of its subordinate organizations" or "any other organization" having for "one of its purposes" the overthrow of the state government where the employee had knowledge of the unlawful purpose. Petitioner, a teacher, filed suit for declaratory relief, having decided that she could not in good conscience take the oath, not knowing what it meant and being unable to obtain a hearing to determine its precise scope and meaning. The judgment of the Arizona Supreme Court sustaining the oath was vacated by this Court, 378 U. S. 127, and remanded for reconsideration in light of Baggett v. Bullitt, 377 U. S. 360. On reconsideration, the Arizona Supreme Court reinstated the original judgment, finding the oath "not afflicted" with the many uncertainties found potentially punishable in Baggett v. Bullitt.


1. Political groups may embrace both legal and illegal aims, and one may join such groups without embracing the latter. Pp. 384 U. S. 15-17.

2. Those who join an organization without sharing in its unlawful purposes pose no threat to constitutional government, either as citizens or as public employees. P. 384 U. S. 17.

3. To presume conclusively that those who join a "subversive" organization share its unlawful aims is forbidden by the principle that a State may not compel a citizen to prove that he has not engaged in criminal advocacy. Speiser v. Randall, 357 U. S. 513 followed. Pp. 384 U. S. 17-18.

4. The Arizona Act is not confined to those who join with the "specific intent" to further the illegal aims of the subversive organization; because it is not "narrowly drawn to define and

Page 384 U. S. 12

punish specific conduct as constituting a clear and present danger," it unnecessarily infringes on the freedom of political association. Pp. 384 U. S. 16-19.

97 Ariz. 140, 397 P.2d 944, reversed.

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