Harisiades v. Shaughnessy, 342 U.S. 580 (1952)

2012-07-09 11:58:09

This is an important civil liberties case dealing with the constitutional status of legally resident aliens decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1952. In Harisiades v. Shaughnessy, the Court held that in spite of having legally resided in the U.S. for almost forty years since he first came to America at age thirteen, defendant Harisiades could be legally deported under the Alien Registration Act of 1940. The act amended existing law in order to authorize deportation of a legally resident alien who had been a member of an organization advocating the overthrow of the U.S. government by force or violence even where the alien’s membership in the group had ended prior to passage of the act.

Harisiades had been a member of the Communist Party between 1925 and 1939 when he quit the organization because he did not support the use of force or violence. An American citizen, engaged in the same conduct as Harisiades during the same time period could not, of course, be deported, but the government was constitutionally entitled to deport Harisiades since legally resident aliens had (and have) fewer rights than U.S. citizens.

In his opinion for the Court, apparently trying to make the distinction between citizens and aliens seem less objectionable, Justice Robert Jackson argued that by maintaining American residence but Greek Citizenship, Harisiades could ‘‘derive advantages from two sources of law—American and international.’’ That, however, was true of U.S. citizens as well since international law protects—and binds—U.S. citizens just like domestic law. Jackson himself had famously participated as lead prosecutor for the United States in the application of international law to Nazi war criminals in Nuremberg, Germany, only seven years earlier. The Court was, perhaps, making the best of a bad situation: trying to uphold a law during the heyday of anticommunism whose hostility to civil liberty was entirely transparent.


See also Aliens, Civil Liberties of; Due Process in Immigration; Ex Post Facto Clause; Noncitizens, Civil Liberties