United States Knauff v. Shaughnessy/Dissent Frankfurter

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Dissenting Opinion

United States Supreme Court

338 U.S. 537

United States Knauff  v.  Shaughnessy

 Argued: Dec. 5, 1949. --- Decided: Jan 16, 1950

Mr. Justice FRANKFURTER, dissenting.

If the essence of statutory construction is to find the thought beneath the words, the views expressed by Mr. Justice JACKSON, in which I fully concur, enforce the purpose of Congress. The contrary conclusion substantially frustrates it.

Seventy years ago began the policy of excluding mentally defective aliens from admission into the United States. Thirty years ago it became our settled policy to admit even the most desirable aliens only in accordance with the quota system. By the so-called War Brides Act Congress made inroads upon both these deeply-rooted policies. Act of December 28, 1945, 59 Stat. 659, 8 U.S.C. § 232 et seq., 8 U.S.C.A. § 232 et seq. It lifted the bar against the exclusion even of 'physically and mentally defective aliens.' It did this in favor of 'alien spouses and alien minor children of citizen members who are serving or have served honorably in the armed forces of the United States during World War II.' H.R.Rep.No.1320 and S.Rep.No.860, 79th Cong., 1st Sess. (1945).

This was a bounty afforded by Congress not to the alien who had become the wife of an American but to the citizen who had honorably served his country. Congress gave this bounty even though a physically or mentally defective person might thereby be added to the population of the United States. Yet it is suggested that the deepest tie that an American soldier could form may be secretly severed on the mere say-so of an official, however well-intentioned. Although five minutes of cross-examination could enable the soldier-husband to dissipate seemingly convincing information affecting the security danger of his wife, that opportunity need not be accorded. And all this, because of the literal reading of the provision of the War Brides Act that the alien spouse, though physically and mentally defective, is to be allowed to join her citizen husband 'if otherwise admissible under the immigration laws'. Upon that phrase is rested the whole structure of Executive regulation based on § 1 of the Act of May 22, 1918, 40 Stat. 559, as amended by the Act of June 21, 1941, 55 Stat. 252, 22 U.S.C. § 223, 22 U.S.C.A. § 223, regarding the summary exclusion, without opportunity for a hearing, of an alien whose entry the Attorney General finds inimical to the public interest. [1]

This is not the way to read such legislation. It is true also of Acts of Congress that 'The letter Killeth.' Legislation should not be read in such a decimating spirit unless the letter of Congress is inexorable. We are reminded from time to time that in enacting legislation Congress is not engaged in a scientific process which takes account of every contingency. Its laws are not to be read as though every i has to be dotted and every t crossed. The War Brides Act is legislation derived from the dominant regard which American society places upon the family. It is not to be assumed that Congress gave with a bountiful hand but allowed its bounty arbitrarily to be taken away. In framing and passing the War Brides Act, Congress was preoccupied with opening the door to wives acquired by American husbands during service in foreign lands. It opened the door on essentials-wives of American soldiers and perchance mothers of their children were not to run the gauntlet of administrative discretion in determining their physical and mental condition, and were to be deemed nonquota immigrants. Congress ought not to be made to appear to require that they incur the greater hazards of an informer's tale without any opportunity for its refutation, especially since considerations of national security, insofar as they are pertinent, can be amply protected by a hearing in camera. Compare Rule 46 of the Rules of Practice for Admiralty Courts during World War II, 316 U.S. 717; 328 U.S. 882, and see Haydock, Some Evidentiary Problems Posed by Atomic Energy Security Requirements, 61 Harv.L.Rev. 468, 482-83 (1948). An alien's opportunity of entry into the United States is of course a privilege which Congress may grant or withhold. But the crux of the problem before us is whether Congress, having extended the privilege for the benefit not of the alien but of her American husband, left wide open the opportunity ruthlessly to take away what it gave.

A regulation permitting such exclusion by the Attorney General's fiat-in the nature of things that high functionary must largely act on dossiers prepared by others-in the case of an alien claiming entry on his own account is one thing. To construe such regulation to be authorized and to apply in the case of the wife of an honorably discharged American soldier is quite another thing. Had Congress spoken explicitly we would have to bow to it. Such a substantial contradiction of the congressional beneficence which is at the heart of the War Brides Act ought not to be attributed to Congress by a process of elaborate implication. Especially is this to be avoided when to do so charges Congress with an obviously harsh purpose. Due regard for the whole body of immigration laws and policies makes it singularly appropriate in construing the War Brides Act to be heedful of the admonition that 'The letter killeth.'

Mr. Justice JACKSON, whom Mr. Justice BLACK and Mr. Justice FRANKFURTER join, dissenting.

I do not question the constitutional power of Congress to authorize immigration authorities to turn back from our gates any alien or class of aliens. But I do not find that Congress has authorized an abrupt and brutal exclusion of the wife of an American citizen without a hearing.

Congress held out a promise of liberalized admission to alien brides, taken unto themselves by men serving in or honorably discharged from our armed services abroad, as the Act, set forth in the Court's opinion, indicates. The petitioning husband is honorably discharged and remained in Germany as a civilian employee. Our military authorities abroad required their permission before marriage. The Army in Germany is not without a vigilant and security-conscious intelligence service. This woman was employed by our European Command and her record is not only without blemish, but is highly praised by her superiors. The marriage of this alien woman to this veteran was approved by the Commanding General at Frankfurt-on-Main.

Now this American citizen is told he cannot bring his wife to the United States, but he will not be told why. He must abandon his bride to live in his own country or forsake his country to live with his bride.

So he went to court and sought a writ of habeas corpus, which we never tire of citing to Europe as the unanswerable evidence that our free country permits no arbitrary official detention. And the Government tells the Court that not even a court can find out why the girl is excluded. But it says we must find that Congress authorized this treatment of war brides and, even if we cannot get any reasons for it, we must say it is legal; security requires it.

Security is like liberty in that many are the crimes committed in its name. The menace to the security of this country, be it great as it may, from this girl's admission is as nothing compared to the menace to free institutions inherent in procedures of this pattern. In the name of security the police state justifies its arbitrary oppressions on evidence that is secret, because security might be prejudiced if it were brought to light in hearings. The plea that evidence of guilt must be secret is abhorrent to free men, because it provides a cloak for the malevolent, the misinformed, the meddlesome, and the corrupt to play the role of informer undetected and uncorrected. Cf. In re Oliver, 333 U.S. 257, 268, 68 S.Ct. 499, 505, 92 L.Ed. 682.

I am sure the officials here have acted from a sense of duty, with full belief in their lawful power, and no doubt upon information which, if it stood the test of trial, would justify the order of exclusion. But not even they know whether it would stand this test. And anyway, as I have said before, personal confidence in the officials involved does not excuse a judge for sanctioning a procedure that is dangerously wrong in principle. Dissent in Bowles v. United States, 319 U.S. 33, 37, 63 S.Ct. 912, 914, 87 L.Ed. 1194.

Congress will have to use more explicit language than any yet cited before I will agree that it has authorized an administrative officer to break up the family of an American citizen or force him to keep his wife by becoming an exile. Likewise, it will have to be much more explicit before I can agree that it authorized a finding of serious misconduct against the wife of an American citizen without notice of charges, evidence of guilt and a chance to meet it.

I should direct the Attorney General either to produce his evidence justifying exclusion or to admit Mrs. Knauff to the country.


^1  The Attorney General is to act on information that satisfies him, but not only is there no opportunity for a hearing, but the Attorney General can lock in his own bosom the evidence that does satisfy him. 8 C.F.R. §§ 175.53, 175.57 (1949).

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).