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

2011-11-08 10:52:37

Aptheker is an important civil liberties case involving the right to travel. In Aptheker v. Secretary of State, 378 U.S. 500, 84 S.Ct. 1659 (1964), the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a federal law that the Court believed unconstitutionally interfered with the freedom of American citizens to travel abroad.

Herbert Aptheker (1915–2003), an historian and political activist, joined the Communist Party in 1939 and subsequently served in the U.S. military in World War II, the struggle for civil rights in the South, and the movement against the War in Vietnam. When his passport was revoked by the U.S. State Department, along with those of other Communist Party leaders, he legally challenged the governmental action.

The U.S. Supreme Court held that section 6 of the Subversive Activities Control Act, which permitted the State Department to refuse to issue or renew passports for members of communist organizations, was unconstitutional on its face. No specific circumstances surrounding application of the law could cure its constitutional infirmity since it ‘‘too broadly and indiscriminately restricts the right to travel and thereby abridges the liberty guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment.’’ The Court had previously held the right to travel abroad was an important aspect of a citizen’s liberty and that liberty was violated by a subversive activities law ignoring an ‘‘individual’s knowledge, activity, commitment, and purposes in and places for travel.’’ Aptheker is one of a series of cases decided by the U.S. federal courts in the beginning of the 1960s that indicated a trend away from abject judicial acquiescence in cold-war interference with civil liberty and due process.