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Albertson v. Subversive Activities Control Board - Significance

register required organizations registered

Albertson marked the beginning of the end of the Subversive Activities Control Board. A remnant of the McCarthy era, it was eventually allowed to lapse in 1973 for lack of congressional appropriation.

In 1950, during the era of the Red Scare, the heyday of Senator Joseph McCarthy and of the House Un-American Activities Committee, Congress passed the Internal Security Act, also known as the McCarran Act. The statute required communist organizations to register with the attorney general, with the registration process to be managed by the Subversive Activities Control Board (SACB). Registered groups were also required to provide a list of their members, who were in turn required to register individually. Members of registered organizations were denied passports, as well as the opportunity to work in defense plants. Each day that an individual failed to register could cost as much as $1,000 or five years in prison, or both.

Not surprisingly, most organizations, including the Communist Party of the United States of America, declined to register. The attorney general then petitioned the SACB for an order requiring party member William Albertson and others to register. They, in turn, sought review of the order from the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia Circuit, which affirmed the order. Albertson and others then applied directly to the U.S. Supreme Court for a final review of the legitimacy of the registration requirement, claiming among other things, that it violated the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.

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