Expository Essay Example on Subversive Activities Control Act of 1950

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Also known as the McCarran or the Internal Security Act of 1950, the SACA mandated the organizations that ascribe to communism to register the Attorney General of the United States. It also created a control board responsible for investigation people suspected to participate in subversive activities or support totalitarian dictatorship in the country (Murray & Wunsch, 2016). Such people would be banned from entering the country and were denied citizenship (Schrecker, 1996; Aljazeera News, 2017). Citizens contravening the Act would be stripped of their citizenship privileges in five years. Similarly, the Act allowed the President to apprehend and remand each person as to whom there is a reasonable ground to believe that such person probably will engage in, or probably will conspire with others to engage in, acts of espionage or sabotage (Patenaude, 2006). The Act, arguably, tightened the noose on immigration and alien exclusion policies through allowing the remanding of persons considered subversive, dangerous or disloyal during states of internal security emergency or war.

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The stringent policies contained in the Act created a state of discomfiture in some people who decided to repeal sections with which they felt disgruntled. Subsequently, the Supreme Court ruled certain sections unconstitutional. The Dennis v. United States case of 1951 questioned the legitimacy of sections 2 and 3 of the Act (Patenaude, 2006). The sections outlawed picketing if it was considered to compromise the court system in any way, or influenced parties in the trial. Dennis argued that the sections violated the rights of the Communist Party (CPUSA) leadership as described in the Constitution by the First Amendment. In particular, they protested that the sections barred them from fully exploiting their constitutional rights to free speech (Patenaude, 2006). In light of this valid argument, the initially deferential court became skeptical towards the Act and its constitutionality. It is with such skepticism that the Supreme Court struck out yet another section of the Act in 1965. In the Albertson v. Subversive Activities Control Board, the Court voted 8-0 to invalidate the section of the registration section of the Act. The section specifically required Communist Party members to register with the Attorney General. The Court, in its declaration, held that the information required during the registration could be used to prosecute the members for being members of the communist party- something which was illegal then. The section, thus, contravened the rights of the persons required to register, as contained in the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination (Belknap, 2004). The court did not stop just yet. In 1967, it struck down another major construct of the McCarran Act of 1950. The section of the Act that prohibited members of the communist part from working for the government denied members of the communist party the right and freedom of association. On that note, the Supreme Court declared the section unconstitutional in the sense that it violated the First Amendment rights of the members of the Communist Party. The First Amendment right that led to the unconstitutionality of the Act is the freedom of association, which formed the core of argument in the United States v. Robel case (Belknap, 2005). Conclusively, most of the provisions of this Act were not only discriminatory but also inhuman. Contemporarily, the Act is largely defunct alongside all the bodies that came in its wake since most of its sections and premises have been invalidated.


Aljazeera News. (29 January 2017). Six other times the US has banned immigrants. ProQuest.

Belknap, Michael R. (2004). The Vinson Court: Justices, Rulings, and Legacy. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. p. 171.

Belknap, Michael R. (2005). The Supreme Court under Earl Warren, 1953-1969. University of South Carolina. p. 79.

Murray, N., & Wunsch, S. (2016). Civil Liberties in Times of Crisis: Lessons from History. Massachusetts Law Review, 2015, 2014.

Patenaude, M. (2006). The McCarran Internal Security Act, 1950-2005: Civil Liberties Versus National Security (Doctoral dissertation, Faculty of the Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in the Department of History by Marc Patenaude BA, University of Arkansas at Little Rock).

Schrecker, E. (1996). Immigration and Internal security: Political Deportation during the McCarthy Era. Science & Society, 60 (4): 393-426.

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