McCarran Internal Security Act

McCarran Internal Security Act
Great Seal of the United States
Other short titles
  • McCarran Act
  • Subversive Activities Control Act of 1950
Long title An Act to protect the United States against certain un-American and subversive activities by requiring registration of Communist organizations, and for other purposes.
Nicknames Internal Security Act of 1950
Enacted by the 81st United States Congress
Effective September 23, 1950
Public law 81–831
Statutes at Large 64 Stat. 987
Titles amended 50 U.S.C.: War and National Defense
U.S.C. sections created 50 U.S.C. ch. 23, subch. I § 781 et seq.
Legislative history
  • Introduced in the House as H.R. 9490 by Pat McCarran (D-NV)
  • Passed the House on August 29, 1950 (354-20)
  • Reported by the joint conference committee on September 20, 1950; agreed to by the House on September 20, 1950 (313-20) and by the Senate on September 20, 1950 (51-7)
  • Vetoed by President Harry Truman on September 22, 1950
  • Overridden by the House on September 22, 1950 (286-48)
  • Overridden by the Senate and became law on September 22, 1950 (57-10)

The Internal Security Act of 1950, 64 Stat. 987 (Public Law 81-831), also known as the Subversive Activities Control Act of 1950 or the McCarran Act, after its principal sponsor Sen. Pat McCarran (D-Nevada), is a United States federal law. It was enacted over President Harry Truman's veto.


Its titles were I: Subversive Activities Control (Subversive Activities Control Act) and II: Emergency Detention (Emergency Detention Act of 1950).[1]

The Act required Communist organizations to register with the United States Attorney General and established the Subversive Activities Control Board to investigate persons suspected of engaging in subversive activities or otherwise promoting the establishment of a "totalitarian dictatorship," either fascist or communist. Members of these groups could not become citizens and in some cases were prevented from entering or leaving the country. Citizens found in violation could lose their citizenship in five years. The Act also contained an emergency detention statute, giving the President the authority to apprehend and detain "each person as to whom there is a reasonable ground to believe that such person probably will engage in, or probably will conspire with others to engage in, acts of espionage or sabotage."[2]

It tightened alien exclusion and deportation laws and allowed for the detention of dangerous, disloyal, or subversive persons in times of war or "internal security emergency".

The Act made picketing a federal courthouse a felony[3] if intended to obstruct the court system or influence jurors or other trial participants.[4]

Legislative history

Several key sections of the Act were taken from the earlier Mundt–Ferguson Communist Registration Bill, which Congress had failed to pass.[5]

It included language that Sen. Mundt had introduced several times before without success aimed at punishing a federal employee from passing information "classified by the President (or by the head of any such department, agency, or corporation with the approval of the President) as affecting the security of the United States" to "any representative of a foreign government or to any officer or member of a Communist organization". He told a Senate hearing that it was a response to what the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) had learned when investigating "the so-called pumpkin papers case, the espionage activities in the Chambers-Hiss case, the Bentley case, and others."[6]

President Harry Truman vetoed it on September 22, 1950, and sent Congress a lengthy veto message in which he criticized specific provisions as "the greatest danger to freedom of speech, press, and assembly since the Alien and Sedition Laws of 1798," a "mockery of the Bill of Rights" and a "long step toward totalitarianism".[7][8]

The House overrode the veto without debate by a vote of 286-48 the same day. The Senate overrode his veto the next day after "a twenty-two hour continuous battle" by a vote of 57-10. Thirty-one Republicans and 26 Democrats voted in favor, while five members of each party opposed it.[9]


Civil libertarians and radical political activists considered the McCarran Act to be a dangerous and unconstitutional infringement of political liberty, as exemplified in this 1961 poster.

The Supreme Court of the United States was initially deferential towards the Internal Security Act. For example, in Galvan v. Press,[10] the Court upheld the deportation of a Mexican alien on the basis that he had briefly been a member of the Communist Party from 1944 to 1946, even though such membership had been lawful at that point in time (and had been declared retroactively illegal by the Act).

As McCarthyism faded into history, the Court adopted a more skeptical approach towards the Act. In 1965, the Court voted 8–0 in Albertson v. Subversive Activities Control Board to invalidate the Act's requirement that members of the Communist Party were to register with the government. It held that the information which party members were required to submit could form the basis of their prosecution for being party members, which was then a crime, and therefore deprived them of their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.[11] In 1967, the act's provision prohibiting communists from working for the federal government or at defense facility was also struck down by the Supreme Court as a violation of the First Amendment's right to freedom of association in United States v. Robel.[12]

Use by U.S. military

The U.S. military continues to use 50 U.S.C. § 797, citing it in U.S. Army regulation AR 190-11 in support of allowing installation commanders to regulate privately owned weapons on army installations. An Army message known as an ALARACT[13] states "senior commanders have specific authority to regulate privately owned weapons, explosives, and ammunition on army installations." The ALARACT refers to AR 190-11 and public law (section 1062 of Public Law 111-383, also known as the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011); AR 190-11 in turn cites the McCarran Internal Security Act (codified as 50 USC 797). The ALARACT reference is a truncated version of the public law.[14]


Part of the Act was repealed by the Non-Detention Act of 1971. For example, violation of 50 U.S.C. § 797 (Section 21 of "the Internal Security Act of 1950"), which concerns security of military bases and other sensitive installations, may be punishable by a prison term of up to one year.[15]

The part of the act codified as 50 U.S.C. § 798 has been repealed in its entirety for violating the First Amendment.[16]

The now-powerless Subversive Activities Control Board was abolished by congress in 1972.[17]


The bill revoked the passport of the renowned singer and actor Paul Robeson, preventing him from traveling outside the United States.

18 U.S.C. § 793 (e) was later used in several cases that did not involve traditional espionage but rather interactions with the media (or in AIPAC's case, lobbyists). These cases included the Pentagon Papers Russo/Ellsberg case (1972), the Morison case (1985), the AIPAC case (United States v. Franklin, 2005), the Thomas Andrews Drake case (2010), and the Chelsea Manning case (2010).[18]

The 1971 pseudo documentary film Punishment Park speculated what might have happened if Richard Nixon had enforced the McCarran Act against members of the anti-war movement, black power movement, the feminist movement, and others.

This act was also referred to by U.S. President Home in the DC Comics crossover event "Amazons Attack!"

See also


  1. The Full Text of the McCarran Internal Security Act, accessed June 25, 2012
  2. Title II, Section 103
  3. New York Times: "M'Grath to Press New Curbs on Reds," September 25, 1950, accessed June 25, 2012
  4. Title I, Section 31
  5. Everything2: The Nixon-Mundt Bill Retrieved 2012-04-10
  6. Justia: Scarbeck v. U.S. paragraphs 20-1, accessed June 25, 2012
  7. Harry S. Truman, Veto of the Internal Security Bill, Harry S. Truman Library and Museum.
  8. "Text of President's Veto Message Vetoing the Communist-Control Bill". New York Times. September 23, 1950. Retrieved April 23, 2013.
  9. Trussel, C.P. (September 24, 1950). "Red Bill Veto Beaten, 57-10, By Senators". New York Times. Retrieved April 23, 2013.
  10. Galvan v. Press, 347 U.S. 522 (1954),
  11. Belknap, Michael R. (2004). The Vinson Court: Justices, Rulings, and Legacy. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. p. 171.
  12. Belknap, Michael R. (2005). The Supreme Court Under Earl Warren, 1953-1969. University of South Carolina. p. 79.
  13. ALARACT 333/2011 DTG R 311939Z AUG 11
  14. Public Law. "111-383" (PDF). section 1062. 111th Congress.
  15. United States Department of Defense DoD Directive 5200.8, "Security of DoD Installations and Resources", 25 April 1991, retrieved August 26, 2005. Archived July 9, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  16. "50 USC 798". Findlaw.
  18. Russo & Ellsberg, Morison,Franklin, Drake, Manning
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