American Committee for Protection of Foreign Born v. Subversive Activities Control Board/Dissent Douglas

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Case Syllabus
Opinion of the Court
Dissenting Opinions

United States Supreme Court

380 U.S. 503

American Committee for Protection of Foreign Born  v.  Subversive Activities Control Board

 Argued: Dec. 8, 9, 1964. --- Decided: April 26, 1965

Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, with whom Mr. Justice BLACK and Mr. Justice HARLAN concur, dissenting.

I dissent from the refusal of the Court to face up to the important constitutional questions squarely presented by this case. The Court's excuse is that Abner Green, the executive secretary, who was prominent in petitioner's affairs, died after the close of the hearings. [1]

Petitioner has never, so far as appears, alleged any facts indicating that with the death of Abner Green the nature of the Committee underwent any significant change. Yet this suggestion could have been made to the Board prior to its decision; and it could have been made to the Court of Appeals, for the Act in § 14(a) specifically provides: 'If either party shall apply to the court for leave to adduce additional evidence, and shall show to the satisfaction of the court that such additional evidence is material, the court may order such additional evidence to be taken before the Board and to be adduced upon the proceeding in such manner and upon such terms and conditions as to the court may seem proper.' [2]

In determining that petitioner was a Communist-front organization, the Board was directed by the Act to consider other evidence in addition to evidence that petitioner's executive secretary was a member of the Communist Party. Section 13(f) sets forth four different categories of evidence which must be considered by the Board in deciding whether an organization is a front: (1) the extent to which those who are active in the direction of the alleged front are also active in a Communist-action organization; (2) the extent to which financial or other support is derived from a Communist-action organization; (3) the extent to which the alleged front's funds and personnel are used to promote the objectives of a Communist-action organization; and (4) the extent to which the alleged front's positions on matters of policy do not deviate from the Communist line. Evidence in all four of these categories was adduced.

The Court takes a peculiar view of the evidence when it surmises that the death of petitioner's executive secretary may suddenly have changed the nature of the organization. It forgets what the Court said in the Communist Party case: 'Where the current character of an organization and the nature of its connections with others is at issue, of course past conduct is pertinent. Institutions, like other organisms, are predominantly what their past has made them. History provides the illuminating context within which the implications of present conduct may be known.' 367 U.S. 1, 69, 81 S.Ct. 1357, 1396. [3]

The Board found that the petitioner had existed in the United States since 1932 or 1933 and that it was eight or nine years later that Green became its executive secretary. The evidence before the Board established that Green was the 'top functionary' of petitioner's national organization and that he was the 'most influential official' therein, but he was not the only top official who was found to be a member of the Communist Party. The number two person in the national organization was Harriet Barron, the administrative secretary, who with Green carried on the organization's day-to-day activities. She was found to have been a member of the Communist Party at the time of the hearings and for a number of years prior thereto.

A great deal of the evidence heard by the Board related to the local branches of the petitioner. The Board found: 'The management, direction, and supervision of the branches (local committees) have been by Communist Party members such as Ruth Hillsgrove for the New England Committee; Evelyn Abelson and Bess Steinberg for the Western Pennsylvania Committee; Saul Grossman for the Michigan Committee; Marion Kinney for the Northwest Committee; and Delphine Smith for the Los Angeles Committee.' This evidence establishes that the petitioner cannot possibly be regarded as a one-man organization. It is true that Green was the leader of the national organization in New York and that he appeared at some meetings of the local committees. But the nature and existence of these local committees, which the Board regarded as 'part of' the national organization, indicate clearly that the organization had an existence above and beyond Green himself.

In this regard the genesis of the Northwest Committee is instructive. The Board found that the organization of this branch resulted from discussions in Communist Party meetings in Seattle about the need for a local branch of the American Committee to defend Party members. This was in 1949 when the Party designated member Kinney to head this organization. Green was not present at the meetings which led to the formation of this branch, and seems to have had little, if any, part in it. The first mention of Green in connection with this branch seems to be the testimony that in 1952 he made a speech at a meeting that was in some way connected with the activities of the local committee.

The ultimate finding of the Board as to these local organizations was: 'We find on the entire record that the American Committee and the various area or local committees are associated together for joint action on particular subjects. Together they constitute a voluntary association and one organization within the meaning of the term 'organization' set forth in section 3(2) of the statute.' (Emphasis supplied.) One simply cannot read the record and come to the conclusion that this congeries of individual organizations, loosely united under the aegis of the national committee, was merely Green's alter ego and would therefore change upon his death.

A Communist-front organization is one which is controlled by a Communist-action organization and which is primarily operated for the purpose of giving aid and support to Communism. To prove this latter part of the definition the Attorney General introduced before the Board evidence showing that the Committee engaged in the legal defense of Party members who were defendants in deportation and denaturalization proceedings. Much of this evidence appears to have concerned the activities of the local committees. The Board found, for example, that 'the cases of Joe Weber, Refugio Ramon Martinez, and James MacKay (were) handled by the Midwest Committee; the Mexican deportees and a group referred to as the Terminal Island Four (were) handled by the Los Angeles Committee; and the Giacomo Quattrone-Ponzi case (was) handled by the New England Committee.' There is no reason to believe that this work of the local committees has been discontinued because of Green's death.

The case is very much alive; and the record is by no means stale. We should face up to the serious issues presented and in no way affected by Abner Green's death.

Notes edit

  1. The Attorney General began the present proceeding in 1953 for an order requiring the petitioner to register as a Communist-front organization, alleging that the petitioner was controlled by the Communist Party. (Immediately prior to the commencement of this proceeding the Board had issued its report of Arpil 20, 1953, finding the Party to be a Communist-action organization.) Hearings were had before an examiner and concluded sometime in 1956. The examiner's recommended decision was issued on September 10, 1957. While the Board had the case under advisement, the second remand in the Communist Party litigation occurred. (The history of this litigation is set out in full in Communist Party of United States v. Subversive Activities Control Board, 367 U.S. 1, at 19-22, 81 S.Ct. 1357, 1370-1372, 6 L.Ed.2d 625.) It was therefore necessary to postpone action in the present case because petitioner here was alleged to be a front for the Communist Party, and the provisions of the Act would not come into play as to petitioner unless the Party were proved to be a Communist-action organization-which was of course the purpose of the Communist Party litigation.
  2. On oral argument before the Board on February 11, 1960, counsel for the petitioner did argue in a general way that the cae was 'stale' simply as the result of the 'passage of time.' In the course of this argument counsel observed that 'Abner Green to my great sorrow is now dead. Things have changed, and times have changed. Standards have changed, and everybody has changed, I think, but the Department of Justice * * *.' This passing reference to Green's death falls far short of a serious effort to show that petitioner was a legally different entity after Green's death: for example, petitioner made no effort to reopen the record for evidence concerning Green's successor, any new policies now in effect, or the like. And, as noted, no effort was made in the Court of Appeals to have the case remanded for the taking of new evidence.
  3. In that case the Court of Appeals observed:

'(I)t is rarely, if ever, possible to prove present nature by some instantaneous, contemporaneous fact, totally ignoring the whole of the past. Not only is the past clearly pertinent, it may be quite material to a determination of present nature. Whether it is material depends upon whether there is affirmative evidence of a departure from the established past. In the ordinary affairs of life and in ordinary litigation, if a person or an organization is shown to have had over many years a certain policy and program, and no more is shown, the conclusion is clearly indicated that he or it has the same policy and program in the present.' 96 U.S.App.D.C. 66, 105, 223 F.2d 531, 570.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).

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