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Kent v. Dulles


Kent v. Dulles arose from the general fear of communism that characterized the 1950s, the period known as the McCarthy era. Its long-lasting impact was the recognition of a constitutionally-protected right to travel abroad.

During the 1950s, the nation was engaged in a Cold War with the U.S.S.R. and its communist allies. American fears about a world-wide communist plot were fueled by Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, who conducted a witch hunt for communists that touched most aspects of society and stopped only when it challenged the loyalty of high ranking members of the military.

Amidst this climate of fear, Rockwell Kent, well-known painter and acknowledged member of the Communist Party, applied for a passport in order to travel to England and to attend a conference of the World Council of Peace in Helsinki, Finland. The passport office denied his application on grounds that he was a communist. The only way he could be issued a passport was to file an affidavit indicating that he was not a communist. Kent declined to do so, instead applying to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia for a declaration that the passport office rules were unconstitutional. When the district court decided instead that he had no case, Kent applied to the U.S. Supreme Court for review of this decision.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1954 to 1962Kent v. Dulles - Significance, Supreme Court Recognizes A New Fundamental Right: Foreign Travel, The Right To Travel