GARNER V. LOS ANGELES BOARD, 341 U. S. 716 (1951)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Garner v. Los Angeles Board, 341 U.S. 716 (1951)

Garner v. Board of Public Works of Los Angeles

No. 453

Argued April 25, 1951

Decided June 4, 1951

341 U.S. 716


1. The Federal Constitution does not forbid a municipality to require its employees to execute affidavits disclosing whether or not they are or ever have been members of the Communist Party or the Communist Political Association. P. 341 U. S. 720.

2. In 1941, the California Legislature amended the Charter of the City of Los Angeles so as to provide, in substance, that no person shall hold or retain or be eligible for any public office or employment in the service of the City (1) who advises, advocates or teaches the overthrow by force or violence of the State or Federal Government or belongs to an organization which does so, or (2) who, within the five years prior to the effective date, had so advised, advocated or taught or had belonged to an organization which did so. In 1948, the City passed an ordinance requiring each of its officers and employees to take an oath that he has not, within the five years preceding the effective date of the ordinance, does not now, and will not while in the service of the City, advise, advocate or teach the overthrow by force, violence or other unlawful means, of the State or Federal Government or belong to an organization which does so or has done so within such five-year period.

Held: The ordinance is not a bill of attainder or ex post facto law, nor, as here construed, does it violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 341 U. S. 720-724.

(a) The Charter amendment is valid under the Federal Constitution to the extent that it bars from the City's public service persons who, since its adoption in 1941, advise, advocate or teach the violent overthrow of the Government or who are or become affiliated with any group doing so, since the provisions, thus operating prospectively, are a reasonable regulation to protect the municipal service. The question of its validity insofar as it purported to apply retrospectively for a five-year period prior to its effective date is not here involved. Pp. 341 U. S. 720-721.

(b) The ordinance clearly is not ex post facto, since the activity covered by the oath had been proscribed by the Charter in the same terms, for the same purpose, and to the same effect over

Page 341 U. S. 717

seven years before, and two years prior to the period covered by the oath. P. 341 U. S. 721.

(c) The ordinance is not a bill of attainder, since no punishment is imposed by a general regulation which merely provides standards of qualification and eligibility for public employment. Lovett v. United States, 328 U. S. 303, distinguished. Pp. 341 U. S. 722-723.

(d) It is assumed here that the oath will not be construed as affecting adversely persons who during their affiliation with a proscribed organization were innocent of its purpose, or those who severed their relations with any such organization when its character became apparent, or those who were affiliated with organizations which were not engaged in proscribed activities at the time of their affiliation; and that, if this interpretation of the oath is correct, the City will give those petitioners who heretofore refused to take the oath an opportunity to take it as interpreted and resume their employment. As thus construed, the requirement of the oath does not violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 341 U. S. 723-724.

98 Cal. App. 2d 493, 220 P. 2d 958, affirmed.

In a suit by discharged employees of a city for reinstatement and unpaid salaries, the state court denied relief. 98 Cal.App. 2d 493, 220 P. 2d 958. This Court granted certiorari. 340 U.S. 941. Affirmed, p. 341 U. S. 724.

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