United States v. Lovett, 328 U.S. 303; 66 S. Ct. 1073; 90 L. Ed. 1252 (1946).

United States v. Lovett, 328 U.S. 303; 66 S. Ct. 1073; 90 L. Ed. 1252 (1946)

Facts—Lovett, Watson, and Dodd had been working for the government for several years, and the government agencies that had lawfully employed them were fully satisfied with their work and wished to keep them employed. In 1943 Congress passed the Urgent Deficiency Appropriation Act, which provided that no salary should be paid respondents unless they were reappointed to their jobs by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate. Notwithstanding the failure of the president to reappoint them, they continued at their jobs and sued for their salaries.

Question—Is this a bill of attainder, which the Constitution forbids?


ReasonsJ. Black (8–0). In Cummings v. Missouri the Court said, “A bill of attainder is a legislative act which inflicts punishment without a judicial trial.” If the punishment be less than death, the act is termed a bill of pains and penalties, but both are included in the meaning of the Constitution. Congressman Dies mentioned Lovett, Watson, and Dodd along with thirty-six other named government employees as “irresponsible, unrepresentative, crackpot, radical bureau- crats” and affiliates of “communist front organizations.” He urged that Congress refuse to appropriate money for their salaries. This in effect would force the governmental agencies to discharge them and stigmatize their reputations, which would seriously impair their chances to earn a living. This clearly punished the individuals without a judicial trial, which is forbidden by the Constitution.

Note—Relatively few bill of attainder cases have come before the Supreme Court. In the Test Oath Cases—Cummings v. Missouri, 4 Wallace 277 (1867) and Ex parte Garland, 4 Wallace 333 (1867)—the Court struck down bills of attainder, and more recently it declared a section of the Landrum Griffin Labor Act (1959) void, in United States v. Brown, 381 U.S. 437 (1965). Instead of deciding Lovett as a bill of attainder case (the practical ef- fect of which was to guarantee a job at public expense), it might have decided it on grounds that it violated the president’s power of removal as set out in Rathbun, Humphrey’s Executor (1935).

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