United States v. Lovett, 328 U.S. 303 (1946)

2012-09-20 15:14:46

The Bill of Attainder Clause of Article I of the Constitution prohibits any legislative act that inflicts punishment on an individual without judicial trial. In 1943, during the pre–Cold War anticommunist hysteria, the House Committee on American Activities, after hearings, determined that Lovett and two other federal employees were guilty of subversive activity. To force the executive branch to discharge these three employees, Congress adopted a rider to the Urgent Deficiency Appropriation Act of 1943, which denied the authority to pay salaries to these employees unless they were reappointed with the advice and consent of the Senate.

In Lovett, the Supreme Court concluded that the statute was an unconstitutional Bill of Attainder. Writing for the majority, Justice Black identified three elements that distinguish bills of attainder from legitimate legislative acts. First, the statutes are specific in that they are designed to apply to particular individuals. Second, the statutes punish these individuals by excluding them from their chosen vocation. Finally, the statutes accomplish the punishment of the named individuals without a judicial trial. Relying on legislative history, the Court found that the statute in Lovett clearly involved such punishment because it amounted to a congressional statement finding certain individuals guilty of subversive activity and Sentencing them to the exclusion from governmental service. The Lovett decision halted congressional efforts to punish individuals by name in statutes.


References and Further Reading

  • Tribe, Lawrence H. American Constitutional Law. 2nd ed. Mineola, NY: Foundation, 1988, pp. 641–656.

See also Bill of Attainder; World War II, Civil Liberties in