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U.S. Supreme Court

Aptheker v. Secretary of State, 378 U.S. 500 (1964)

Aptheker v. Secretary of State

No. 461

Argued April 21, 1964

Decided June 22, 1964

378 U.S. 500


Appellants, native-born citizens and residents of the United States, are ranking officials of the Communist Party of the United States. After hearings under State Department regulations, appellants' passports were revoked under § 6 of the Subversive Activities Control Act of 1950, which provides that, when a Communist organization is registered, or under final order to register, it shall be unlawful for any member with knowledge or notice thereof to apply for or use a passport. Appellants filed suit asking that § 6 be declared unconstitutional as a violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment and that the Secretary of State be ordered to issue passports to them. A three-judge District Court denied relief.


1. Section 6 is unconstitutional on its face, for it too broadly and indiscriminately transgresses the liberty guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment. Pp. 378 U. S. 505-514.

(a) The right to travel at home and abroad is an important aspect of liberty of which a citizen cannot be deprived without due process of law. Kent v. Dulles, 357 U. S. 116, followed. P. 378 U. S. 505.

(b) Under existing laws, denial of a passport effectively prohibits travel anywhere in the world outside the Western Hemisphere. P. 378 U. S. 507.

(c) Though the underlying purpose of § 6 is the protection of national security, the attainment of that end cannot be realized by unduly infringing upon constitutional freedoms. Pp. 378 U. S. 508-509.

(d) Section 6 applies to every member of a "Communist action" or "Communist front" organization whether or not he believes or knows that he is associated with such an organization or that the organization seeks to further the aims of world Communism. Pp. 378 U. S. 509-510.

(e) Also irrelevant under § 6 is the member's degree of activity and his commitment to the organization's purposes. P. 378 U. S. 510.

(f) Section 6 creates an irrebuttable presumption that all members of Communist organizations will engage in activities endangering our security if given passports. P. 378 U. S. 511.

Page 378 U. S. 501

(g) The proscription of § 6 applies regardless of the traveler's purpose or destination. Pp. 378 U. S. 511-512.

(h) Congress could have chosen less drastic means of achieving the national security objective without such sweeping abridgment of liberty. Pp. 378 U. S. 512-514.

2. Section 6 cannot be held constitutional as applied to these appellants, for such a "construction" would require substantial rewriting of the statute and would inject an element of vagueness into its scope. Since freedom of travel is closely akin to freedom of speech and association, appellants should not be required to demonstrate that Congress could not have written a statute constitutionally prohibiting their travel. Pp. 378 U. S. 515-517.

219 F.Supp. 709, reversed and remanded.

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