American Communications Association v. Douds/Concurrence Frankfurter

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United States Supreme Court

339 U.S. 382

American Communications Association  v.  Douds

 Argued: Oct. 10, 11, 1949. --- Decided: may 8, 1950

Mr. Justice FRANKFURTER, concurring in the Court's opinion except as to Part VII.

'Scarcely any political question arises in the United States,' observed the perceptive de Tocqueville as early as 1835, 'that is not resolved, sooner or later, into a judicial question.' 1 Democracy in America 280 (Bradley ed. 1948). And so it was to be expected that the conflict of political ideas now dividing the world more pervasively than any since this nation was founded would give rise to controversies for adjudication by this Court. 'The judicial Power' with which alone this Court is invested comes into operation only as to issues that the long tradition of our history has made appropriate for disposition by judges. When such questions are properly here they are to be disposed of within those strict confines of legal reasoning which laymen too often deem invidiously technical. This restriction to justiciable issues to be disposed of in the unrhetorical manner of opinion-writing reflects respect by the judiciary for its very limited, however great, function in the proper distribution of authority in our political scheme so as to avoid autocratic rule. No doubt issues like those now before us cannot be completely severed from the political and emotional context out of which they emerge. For that very reason adjudication touching such matters should not go one whit beyond the immediate issues requiring decision, and what is said in support of the adjudication should insulate the Court as far as is rationally possible from the political conflict beneath the legal issues.

The central problem presented by the enactment now challenged is the power of Congress, as part of its comprehensive scheme for industrial peace, to keep Communists out of controlling positions in labor unions as a condition to utilizing the opportunities afforded by the National Labor Relations Act, as amended by the Labor Management Relations Act 1947. [1] Wrapped up in this problem are two great concerns of our democratic society the right of association for economic and social betterment and the right of association for political purposes. It is too late in the day to deny to Congress the power to promote industrial peace in all the far-flung range of interstate commerce. To that end, Congress may take appropriate measures to protect interstate commerce against disruptive conduct not fairly related to industrial betterment within our democratic framework. It is one thing to forbid heretical political thought merely as heretical thought. It is quite a different thing for Congress to restrict attempts to bring about another scheme of society, not through appeal to reason and the use of the ballot as democracy has been pursued throughout our history, but through an associated effort to disrupt industry.

Thus stated, it would make undue inroads upon the policy-making power of Congress to deny it the right to protect the industrial peace of the country by excluding from leadership in trade unions which seek to avail themselves of the machinery of the Labor Management Relations Act those who are united for action against our democratic process. This is so not because Congress in affording a facility can subject it to any condition it pleases. It cannot. Congress may withhold all sorts of facilities for a better life but if it affords them it cannot make them available in an obviously arbitrary way or exact surrender of freedoms unrelated to the purpose of the facilities. Congress surely can provide for certain clearly relevant qualifications of responsibility on the part of leaders of trade unions invoking the machinery of the Labor Management Relations Act. The essential question now is whether Congress may determine that membership of union officers in the Communist Party creates such an obvious hazard to the peace-promoting purposes of the Act that access to the machinery of the Act may be denied unions which prefer their freedom to have officers who are Communists to their opportunities under the Act.

When we are dealing with conflicting freedoms, as we are on the issues before us, we are dealing with large concepts that too readily lend themselves to explosive rhetoric. We are also dealing with matters as to which diffent nuances in phrasing the same conclusion lead to different emphasis and thereby eventually may lead to different conclusions in slightly different situations. From my point of view these are issues as to which it would be desirable for the members of the Court to write full length individual opinions. The Court's business in our time being what it is precludes this. It must suffice for me to say that the judgment of Congress that trade unions which are guided by officers who are committed by ties of membership to the Communist Party must forego the advantages of the Labor Management Relations Act is reasonably related to the accomplishment of the purposes which Congress constitutionally had a right to pursue. To deny that that is a judgment which Congress may, as a matter of experience enforce even though it involves the indicated restrictions upon freedom would be to make naivete a requirement in judges. Since the Court's opinion, in the main, expresses the point of view which I have very inadequately sketched, I join it except as qualified in what follows.

Congress was concerned with what it justifiably deemed to be the disorganizing purposes of Communists who hold positions of official power in labor unions, or, at the least, what it might well deem their lack of disinterested devotion to the basic tenets of the American trade union movement because of a higher loyalty to a potentially conflicting cause. But Congress did not choose merely to limit the freedom of labor unions which seek the advantages of the Labor Management Relations Act to be led by officers who are not willing to disavow membership in the Communist Party. The scope of its legislation was much more extensive.

Legislation, in order to effectuate its purposes, may deal with radiations beyond the immediate incidence of a mischief. If a particular mischief is within the scope of congressional power, wide discretion must be allowed to Congress for dealing with it effectively. It is not the business of this Court to restrict Congress to narrowly in defining the extent or the nature of remedies. How to curb an evil, what remedies will be effective, the reach of a particular evil and therefore the appropriate scope of a remedy against it-all these are in the main matters of legislative policy not open to judicial condemnation. There are, of course, some specific restrictions in devising remedies. No matter what its notions of policy may be, the Eighth Amendment, for example, bars Congress from inflicting 'cruel and unusual punishments.' I do not suppose it is even arguable that Congress could ask for a disclosure of how union officers cast their ballots at the last presidential election even though the secret ballot is a relatively recent institution. See Wigmore, The Australian Ballot System 3, 15, 22 (1889). So also Congress must keep within the contours of the 'due process' requirement of the Fifth Amendment, vague as they are. In order to curb a mischief Congress cannot be so indefinite in its requirements that effort to meet them raises hazards unfair to those who seek obedience or involves surrender of freedoms which exceeds what may fairly be exacted. These restrictions on the broad scope of legislative discretion are merely the law's application of the homely saws that one should not throw out the baby with the bath or burn the house in order to roast the pig.

In my view Congress has cast its net too indiscriminately in some of the provisions of § 9(h). To ask avowal that one 'does not believe in, and is not a member of on supports any organization that believes in * * * the overthrow of the United States Government * * * by any illegal or unconstitutional methods' is to ask assurances from men regarding matters that open the door too wide to mere speculation or uncertainty. It is asking more than rightfully may be asked of ordinary men to take oath that a method is not 'unconstitutional' or 'illegal' when constitutionality or legality is frequently determined by this Court by the chance of a single vote. [2] It does not meet the difficulty to suggest that the hazard of a prosecution for perjury is not great since the convictions for perjury must be founded on willful falsity. To suggest that a judge might not be justified in allowing a case to go to a jury, or that a jury would not be justified in convicting, or that, on the possible happening of these events, an appellate court would be compelled to reverse, or, finally, that resort could be had to this Court for review on a petition for certiorari, affords safeguards too tenuous to neutralize the danger. See Musser v. Utah, 333 U.S. 95, 68 S.Ct. 397, 92 L.Ed. 562. The hazards that were found to be fatal to the legislation under review in Winters v. New York, 333 U.S. 507, 68 S.Ct. 665, 92 L.Ed. 840, appear trivial by comparison with what is here involved.

It is not merely the hazard of prosecution for perjury that is dependent on a correct determination as to the implications of a man's belief or the belief of others with whom he may be associated in an organization concerned with political and social issues. It should not be assumed that oaths will be lightly taken; fastidiously scrupulous regard for them should be encouraged. Therefore, it becomes most relevant whether an oath which Congress asks men to take may or may not be thought to touch matters that may not be subjected to compulsory avowal of belief or disbelief. In the uncertainty of the reach of § 9(h), one may withhold an oath because of conscientious scruples that it covers beliefs whose disclosure Congress could not in terms exact. If a man has scruples about taking an oath because of uncertainty as to whether it encompasses some beliefs that are inviolate, the surrender of abstention is invited by the ambiguity of the congressional exaction. As Mr. Justice JACKSON'S opinion indicates, probing into men's thoughts trenches on those aspects of individual freedom which we rightly regard as the most cherished aspects of Western civilization. The cardinal article of faith of our civilization is the inviolate character of the individual. A man can be regarded as an individual and not as a function of the state only if he is protected to the largest possible extent in his thoughts and in his beliefs as the citadel of his person. Entry into that citadel can be justified, if at all, only if strictly confined so that the belief that a man is asked to reveal is so defined as to leave no fair room for doubt that he is not asked to disclose what he has a right to withhold.

No one could believe more strongly than I do that every rational indulgence should be made in favor of the constitutionality of an enactment by Congress. I deem it my duty to go to the farthest possible limits in so construing legislation as to avoid a finding that Congress has exceeded the limits of its powers. See, e.g., United States v. Lovett, 328 U.S. 303, 318, 329, 66 S.Ct. 1073, 1080, 1085, 90 L.Ed. 1252; Shapiro v. United States, 335 U.S. 1, 36, 68 S.Ct. 1375, 1393, 92 L.Ed. 1787; United States v. C.I.O., 335 U.S. 106, 124, 129, 68 S.Ct. 1349, 1358, 1360, 92 L.Ed. 1849.

If I possibly could, to avoid questions of unconstitutionality I would construe the requirements of § 9(h) to be restricted to disavowal of actual membership in the Communist Party, or in an organization that is in fact a controlled cover for that Party or of active belief, as a matter of present policy, in the overthrow of the Government of the United States by force. But what Congress has written does not permit such a gloss nor deletion of what it has written. See Yu Cong Eng v. Trinidad, 271 U.S. 500, 46 S.Ct. 619, 70 L.Ed. 1059. I cannot deem it within the righful authority of Congress to probe into opinions that involve only an argumentative demostration of some coincidental parallelism of belief with some of the beliefs of those who direct the policy of the Communist Party, though without any allegiance to it. To require oaths as to matters that open up such possibilities invades the inner life of men whose compassionate thought or doctrinaire hopes may be as far removed from any dangerous kinship with the Communist creed as were those of the founders of the present orthodox political parties in this country.

The offensive provisions of § 9(h) leave unaffected, however, the valid portions of the section. In § 16, Congress has made express provision for such severance. Since the judgments below were based in part on what I deem unconstitutional requirements I cannot affirm but would remand to give opportunity to obey merely the valid portions of § 9(h).


  1. Section 9(h) requires each officer of a union seeking to invoke the machinery of Labor Management Relations Act to submit an affidavit 'that he is not a member of the Communist Party or affiliated with such party, and that he does not believe in, and is not a member of or supports any organization that believes in or teaches, the overthrow of the United States Government by force or by any illegal or unconstitutional methods.' 61 Stat. 146, 29 U.S.C.Supp. III § 159(h), 29 U.S.C.A. § 159(h). The provisions of what is now 18 U.S.C. § 1001, 18 U.S.C.A. § 1001, formerly § 35(A) of the Criminal Code, are made applicable in respect to such affidavits.
  2. As to the dubious scope of the term 'affiliated' in the statute, see Bridges v. Wixon, 326 U.S. 135, 65 S.Ct. 1443, 89 L.Ed. 2103.

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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