The Subversive Activities Control Act, enacted by Congress in 1950 at a time of great concern about national security, was later found to have First Amendment and other constitutional problems.
In the years immediately following World War II, many Americans feared communist plots to take over the United States. In response, Congress passed in September 1950, over President Harry S.Truman’s veto, the Internal Security Act. Title I of this act, called the Subversive Activities Control Act, targeted communist organizations in the United States. The act made it a crime for “any person knowingly to combine, conspire . . . to perform any act which would substantially contribute to the establishment within the United States of a totalitarian dictatorship” that was controlled by a foreign nation, or to communicate classified information to any agent of a foreign nation. Violators could be punished by a $10,000 fine and imprisonment of up to ten years. In addition, members of a communist organization could not work at a defense facility or obtain a passport. Communist organizations and all members of those organizations were told to register with the attorney general of the United States.
President Truman had vetoed the act because of perceived constitutional problems—problems soon uncovered by the Supreme Court. In Aptheker v. Secretary of State (1964), the Court ruled that denying members of communist organizations passports was unconstitutional. In Albertson v. Subversive Activities Control Board (1965), the Court declared that registration of an individual amounted to self-incrimination and violated the Fifth Amendment. And in United States v. Robel (1967), the Court declared that a member of a communist organization who worked for a defense facility and who was indicted because of that fact was being denied his First Amendment right of assembly.
In 1968 Congress removed the requirement that communist organizations had to register with the attorney general. And then in 1993 Congress repealed much of the act (Sections 1, 3, 5, 6, 9–16). By the 1990s, the communist threat was no longer relevant.Send Feedback on this article