United Public Workers of America v. Mitchell, 330 U.S. 75; 67 S. Ct. 556; 1 L. Ed. 754 (1947)

Facts—The Hatch Act, enacted in 1940, makes it unlawful for federal employees to engage in certain specified political activities. The appellants, with the exception of George Poole, asked for a declaration of the legally permissible limits of regulation. The Court held that this would be an advisory opinion and refused to take jurisdiction. However, Poole was a ward executive committeeman of a political party and was politically active on election day as a worker at the polls and paymaster for other party workers. He had violated the Hatch Act.

Question—Does the Hatch Act violate the political rights reserved to the people under the Ninth and Tenth Amendments?


ReasonsJ. Reed (4–3). The practice of excluding classified employees from party offices and personal political activities at the polls is an old one. In Ex parte Curtis the decision was confirmed that prohibited employees from giving or receiving money for political purposes to or from other employees of the government because this was not a right protected by the Constitution, but one that was subject to regulation.

The prohibitions under discussion were not dissimilar, since they involved contributions of energy instead of money. Congress and the president are responsible for efficiency in the public service, and if they think prohibiting active political service will best obtain the objective, there is no constitutional objection. If Congress oversteps reasonable limits, the courts will interfere but only when congressional interference passes beyond the general existing conception of government power.

In dissent, J. Black argued that the Court majority took too narrow a view of the First Amendment. J. Douglas supported a declaratory judgment in cases where a judgment will keep people from having to risk their jobs.

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