Wieman v. Updegraff/Opinion of the Court
United States Supreme Court
WIEMAN v. UPDEGRAFF
Argued: Oct. 16, 1952. --- Decided: Dec 15, 1952
This is an appeal from a decision of the Supreme Court of Oklahoma, Board of Regents v. Updegraff, 205 Okl. 301, 237 P.2d 131, 135, upholding the validity of a loyalty oath  prescribed by Oklahoma statute for all state officers and employees. Okl.Stat.1951, Tit. 51, §§ 37.1-37.8. Appellants, employed by the state as members of the faculty and staff of Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College, failed, within the thirty days permitted, to take the oath required by the Act. Appellee Updegraff, as a citizen and taxpayer, thereupon brought this suit in the District Court of Oklahoma County to enjoin the necessary state officials from paying further compensation to employees who had not subscribed to the oath. The appellants, who were permitted to intervene, attacked the validity of the Act on the grounds, among others, that it was a bill of attainder; an ex post facto law; impaired the obligation of their contracts with the State and violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. They also sought a mandatory injunction directing the state officers to pay their salaries regardless of their failure to take the oath. Their objections centered largely on the following clauses of the oath:
'* * * That I am not affiliated directly or indirectly * * * with any foreign political agency, party, organization or Government, or with any agency, party, organization, association, or group whatever which has been officially determined by the United States Attorney General or other authorized agency of the United States to be a communist front or subversive organization; * * * that I will take up arms in the defense of the United States in time of War, or National Emergency, if necessary; that within the five (5) years immediately preceding the taking of this oath (or affirmation) I have not been a member of * * * any agency, party, organization, association, or group whatever which has been officially determined by the United States Attorney General or other authorized public agency of the United States to be a communist front or subversive organization * * *.'
The court upheld the Act and enjoined the state officers from making further salary payments to appellants. The Supreme Court of Oklahoma affirmed, sub nom. Board of Regents v. Updegraff, 1951, 205 Ok. 301, 237 P.2d 131, 135.  We noted probable jurisdiction because of the public importance of this type of legislation and the recurring serious constitutional questions which it presents.
The District Court of Oklahoma County in holding the Act valid concluded that the appellants were compelled to take the oath as written; that the appellants 'and each of them, did not take and subscribe to the oath as provided in Section 2 of the Act and wilfully refused to take that oath and by reason thereof the Board of Regents is enjoined from paying them, and their employment is terminated.' In affirming, the Supreme Court of Oklahoma held that the phrase of the oath 'any foreign political agency, party, organization or Government, or with any agency, party, organization, association, or group whatever which has been officially determined by the United States Attorney General or other authorized agency of the United States to be a communist front or subversive organization' actually 'refers to a list or lists of such organizations in existence at the time of the passage of the act which had been prepared by the Attorney General (of the United States) under Governmental directive. Such list or lists are in effect made a part of the oath by reference.' On this point the opinion continues: 'There is no requirement in the act that an oath be taken of non-membership in organizations not on the list of the Attorney General of the United States at the time of the passage of this act.'
We read this part of the highest state court's decision as limiting the organizations proscribed by the Act to those designated on the list or lists of the Attorney General which had been issued prior to the effective date of the Act. Although this interpretation discarded clear language of the oath as surplusage, the court denied the appellants' petition for rehearing which included a plea that refusal of the court to permit appellants to take the oath as so interpreted was violative of due process.
The purpose of the Act, we are told, 'was to make loyalty a qualification to hold public office or be employed by the State.' 205 Okl. at page 305, 237 P.2d at page 136. During periods of international stress, the extent of legislation with such objectives accentuates our traditional concern about the relation of government to the individual in a free society. The perennial problem of defining that relationship becomes acute when disloyalty is screened by ideological patterns and techniques of disguise that make it difficult to identify. Democratic government is not powerless to meet this threat, but it must do so without infringing the freedoms that are the ultimate values of all democratic living. In the adoption of such means as it believes effective, the legislature is therefore confronted with the problem of balancing its interest in national security with the often conflicting constitutional rights of the individual.
In a series of cases coming here in recent years, we have had occasion to consider legislation aimed at safeguarding the public service from disloyalty. Garner v. Board of Public Works, 1951, 341 U.S. 716, 71 S.Ct. 909, 95 L.Ed. 1317; Adler v. Board of Education, 1952, 342 U.S. 485, 72 S.Ct. 380; Gerende v. Board of Supervisors, 1951, 341 U.S. 56, 71 S.Ct. 565, 95 L.Ed. 745. It is in the context of these decisions that we determine the validity of the oath before us.
Garner involved a Los Angeles ordinance requiring all city employees to swear that they did not advocate the overthrow of the government by unlawful means or belong to organizations with such objectives. The ordinance implemented an earlier charter amendment which disqualified from municipal employment all persons unable to take such an oath truthfully. One of the attacks made on the oath in that case was that it violated due process because its negation was not limited to organizations known by the employee to be within the proscribed class. This argument was rejected because we felt justified in assuming that scienter was implicit in each clause of the oath.
Alder also indicated the importance of determining whether a rule of exclusion based on association applies to innocent as well as knowing activity. New York had sought to bar from employment in the public schools persons who advocate, or belong to organizations which advocate, the overthrow of the government by unlawful means. The Feinberg Law directed the New York Board of Regents to make a listing, after notice and hearing, of organizations of the type described. Under § 3022 of the statute, Education Law, McK.Consol.Laws, c. 16, the Regents provided by regulation that membership in a listed organization should be prima facie evidence of disqualification for office in the New York public schools. In upholding this legislation, we expressly noted that the New York courts had construed the statute to require knowledge of organizational purpose before the regulation could apply. 342 U.S. at page 494, 72 S.Ct. at pae 385. Cf. American Communications Ass'n v. Douds, 1950, 339 U.S. 382, 413, 70 S.Ct. 674, 94 L.Ed. 925.
The oath in Gerende was required of candidates for public office who sought places on a Maryland ballot. On oral argument in that case, the Maryland Attorney General assured us that he would advise the proper state authorities to accept, as complying with the statute, an affidavit stating that the affiant was not engaged in an attempt to overthrow the government by force or violence or knowingly a member of an organization engaged in such an attempt. Because we read an earlier Maryland Court of Appeals' decision as interpreting the statute so that such an affidavit would satisfy its requirements, we affirmed on the basis of this assurance.
We assumed in Garner, that if ourinterpretation of the oath as containing an implicit scienter requirement was correct, Los Angeles would give the petitioners who had refused to sign the oath an opportunity to take it as interpreted and resume their employment. But here, with our decision in Garner before it, the Oklahoma Supreme Court refused to extend to appellants an opportunity to take the oath. In addition, a petition for rehearing which urged that failure to permit appellants to take the oath as interpreted deprived them of due process was denied. This must be viewed as a holding that knowledge is not a factor under the Oklahoma statute. We are thus brought to the question touched on in Garner, Adler, and Gerende: whether the due process clause permits a state in attempting to bar disloyal individuals from its employ to exclude persons solely on the basis of organizational membership, regardless of their knowledge concerning the organizations to which they had belonged. For, under the statute before us, the fact of membership alone disqualifies. If the rule be expressed as a presumption of disloyalty, it is a conclusive one.
But membership may be innocent. A state servant may have joined a proscribed organization unaware of its activities and purposes. In recent years, many completely loyal persons have severed organizational ties after learning for the first time of the character of groups to which they had belonged. 'They had joined, (but) did not know what it was; they were good, fine young men and women, loyal Americans, but they had been trapped into it because one of the great weaknesses of all Americans, whether adult or youth, is to join something.'  At the time of affiliation, a group itself may be innocent, only later coming under the influence of those who would turn it toward illegitimate ends. Conversely, an organization formerly subversive and therefore designated as such may have subsequently freed itself from the influences which originally led to its listing.
There can be do dispute about the consequences visited upon a person excluded from public employment on disloyalty grounds. In the view of the community, the stain is a deep one; indeed, it has become a badge of infamy. Especially is this so in time of cold war and hot emotions when 'each man begins to eye his neighbor as a possible enemy.'  Yet under the Oklahoma Act, the fact of association alone determines disloyalty and disqualification; it matters not whether association existed innocently or knowingly. To thus inhibit individual freedom of movement is to stifle the flow of democratic expression and controversy at one of its chief sources. We hold that the distinction observed between the case at bar and Garner, Adler and Gerende is decisive. Indiscriminate classification of innocent with knowing activity must fall as an assertion of arbitrary power. The oath offends due process.
But appellee insists that Adler and United Public Workers v. Mitchell, 1947, 330 U.S. 75, 67 S.Ct. 556, 91 L.Ed. 754, are contra. We are referred to our statement in Adler that persons seeking employment in the New York public schools have 'no right to work for the State in the school system on their own terms. United Public Workers v. Mitchell * * *. They may work for the school system upon the reasonable terms laid down by the proper authorities of New York.' 342 U.S. at page 492, 72 S.Ct. at page 384. To draw from this language the facile generalization that there is no constitutionally protected right to public employment is to obscure the issue. For, in United Public Workers, though we held that the Federal Government through the Hatch Act, 18 U.S.C.A. §§ 118j, 118l, could properly bar its employees from certain types of political activity thought inimical to the interests of the Civil Service, we cast this holding into perspective by emphasizing that Congress could not 'enact a regulation providing that no Republican, Jew or Negro shall be appointed to federal office, or that no federal employee shall attend Mass or take any active part in missionary work.' 330 U.S. at page 100, 67 S.Ct. at page 569, 91 L.Ed. 754. See also In re Summers, 1945, 325 U.S. 561, 571, 65 S.Ct. 1307, 1313, 89 L.Ed. 1795. We need not pause to consider whether an abstract right to public employment exists. It is sufficient to say that constitutional protection does extend to the public servant whose exclusion pursuant to a statute is patently arbitrary or discriminatory.
Because of this disposition, we do not pass on the serious questions raised as to whether the Act, in proscribing those 'communist front or subversive organizations' designated as such on lists of the Attorney General of the United States, gave fair notice to those affected, in view of the fact that those listings have never included a designation of 'communist fronts,' and have in some cases designated organizations without classifying them. Nor need we consider the significance of the differing standards employed in the preparation of those lists and their limited evidentiary use under the Federal Loyalty Program.
Mr. Justice JACKSON, not having heard the argument, took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
^1 'I, _ _, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Oklahoma against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Oklahoma; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties upon which I am about to enter.
'And I do further swear (or affirm) that I do not advocate, nor am I a member of any party or organization, political or otherwise, that now advocates the overthrow of the Government of the United States or of the State of Oklahoma by force or violence or other unlawful means; That I am not affiliated directly or indirectly with the Communist Party, the Third Communist International, with any foreign political agency, party, organization or Government, or with any agency, party, organization, association, or group whatever which has been officially determined by the United States Attorney General or other authorized agency of the United States to be a communist front or subversive organization; nor do I advocate revolution, teach or justify a program of sabotage, force or violence, sedition or treason, against the Government of the United States or of this State; nor do I advocate directly or indirectly, teach or justify by any means whatsoever, the overthrow of the Government of the United States or of this State, or change in the form of Government thereof, by force
or any unlawful means; that I will take up arms in the defense of the United States in time of War, or National Emergency, if necessary; that within the five (5) years immediately preceding the taking of this oath (or affirmation) I have not been a member of the Communist Party, the Third Communist International, or of any agency, party, organization, association, or group whatever which has been officially determined by the United States Attorney General or other authorized public agency of the United States to be a communist front or subversive organization, or of any party or organization, political or otherwise, that advocated the overthrow of the Government of the United States or of the State of Oklahoma by force or violence or other unlawful means;
'And I do further swear (or affirm) that during such time as I am _ _ (Here put name of office, or, if an employee,) insert 'An employee of' followed by the complete designation of the employing officer, office, agency, authority, commission, department or institution.
'I will not advocate and that I will not become a member of any party or organization, political or otherwise, that advocates the overthrow of the Government of the United States or of the State of Oklahoma by force or violence or other unlawful means.'
^2 The state officials named as defendants in Updegraff's suit took the position in the state courts that the statute was unconstitutional. Following a policy of the Oklahoma Attorney General not to appeal from adverse decisions of the state supreme court, these defendants are here only because they were made appellees by the appellant-intervenors. They have chosen in their brief merely to restate, without argument, their position in the court below.
^3 Testimony of J. Edgar Hoover, Hearings before House Committee on Un-American Activities on H.R. 1884 and H.R. 2122, 80th Cong., 1st Sess. 46.
^4 Address by Judge Learned Hand at the 86th Convocation of the University of the State of New York, delivered October 24, 1952, at Albany, New York.