Patricia Blau, Smith Act, and Elena Ferrante

Patricia Blau
Patricia Blau would not testify against herself in front of a grand jury. Many of the fundamental doctrines in our laws came from minority groups fighting for their rights. That included communists.

My Country – Patricia Blau

In 1950, the Supreme Court decided Blau v. United States , where Patricia Blau refused to answer grand jury questions concerning her employment by the communist party. At the time, Congress had made it a crime to advocate the desirability of the overthrow of the government. Mrs. Blau was convicted of contempt for refusing to answer the questions. The grand jury’s questions were:

  • “Mrs. Blau, do you know the names of the State officers of the Communist Party of Colorado?”
  • “Do you know what the organization of the Communist Party of Colorado is, the table of organization of the Communist Party of Colorado?”
  • “Were you ever employed by the Communist Party of Colorado?”
  • “Mrs. Blau, did you ever have in your possession or custody any of the books and records of the Communist Party of Colorado?”
  • “Did you turn the books and records of the Communist Party of Colorado over to any particular person?”
  • “Do you know the names of any persons who might now have the books and records of the Communist Party of Colorado?”
  • “Could you describe to the grand jury any books and records of the Communist Party of Colorado?”

Patricia Blau v United States

The Supreme Court reversed the conviction of Patricia Blau because she was entitled to refuse to testify against herself. For a unanimous Court, Justice Hugo Black wrote

[S]he reasonably could fear that criminal charges might be brought against her if she admitted employment by the Communist Party or intimate knowledge of its workings. Whether such admissions by themselves would support a conviction under a criminal statute is immaterial. Answers to the questions asked by the grand jury would have furnished a link in the chain of evidence needed in a prosecution of petitioner for violation of (or conspiracy to violate) the Smith Act. Prior decisions of this Court have clearly established that under such circumstances, the Constitution gives a witness the privilege of remaining silent. The attempt by the courts below to compel petitioner to testify runs counter to the Fifth Amendment as it has been interpreted from the beginning. [emphasis added]

The Red Scare and Patricia Blau

The Chicago Tribune headlined the analysis of this decision as “confusing the anti-red drive.” Harry S. Barger concluded that the Communists succeeded in “turning the Constitution into a shield for crimes, including treason.” He wrote that “Since communism is a conspiracy, it involves many persons, and Patricia Blau laid the groundwork for protection of persons other than herself. That aspect of the case appears either to have been overlooked or purposely ignored by the Supreme court.” However, as Douglas wrote previously in regards to John Lilburne and The Body of Liberties, immunity protects the witness from supplying any link in a chain of testimony that would convict him. Justice Black used this line in the opinion.

The Smith Act

Many dark parts of American history took place under FDR’s Presidency, including the Smith Act. The Alien Registration Act of 1940 set criminal penalties for advocating the overthrow of the U.S. government and required all non-citizen adult residents to register with the government. Patricia Blau and her husband were charged under this Act. It passed overwhelmingly in Congress. We do not have a recorded vote from the Senate, so I cannot state how George W. Norris felt about the bill.


Each resident alien needed to register. Consequently, Solicitor General Biddle, who also created a list of subversive groups stated in regards to the registration:

Many people still feel that there is a stigma attached to being fingerprinted. I have been fingerprinted, as have millions of others who served in the armed forces of the United States. All Federal civil service employees are fingerprinted. Even postal savings depositors are fingerprinted. I assure you that there is no stigma attached to being fingerprinted in this day and age.

Compare that to what Kellyanne Conway said about the Muslim Ban:

I was stopped many times … after 9/11. I didn’t resemble, or share a name with, or be part of any kind of terrorist conspiracy, but this is what we do to keep a nation safe.

In conclusion, history repeats itself.

Communist Trials

In addition to Patricia Blau, J. Edgar Hoover tried to sweep 55 members of the Communist Party of the United States under the Smith Act. Only 12 became defendants, in what would become one of the longest and highest profile cases at the time. At the time, the populace sided against the members of the party, but protesters rallied outside of the courthouse. The trial lasted for ten months. Appeals up to the Supreme Court focused on the First Amendment. The Court upheld their convictions, but Justice Douglas dissented with Justice Black. Most likely, Dennis v. United States will come up later.

Daily Briefing

  • The Kremlin has become concerned that their man in the White House may not work well.
  • We should and no one else should ever use depleted uranium weapons. This will be a black mark on the Obama Presidency.
  • Michael Flynn may be gone, but it is just the beginning.
  • Glad I moved away from my parents when I did. I had no idea it would ruin my potential future. (Therefore, I do not believe this article to be 100% accurate.)
  • I found a reason to persuade Brian to go to Texas – a giant squirrel.
  • The “Deep State” scares everyone.
  • Libertarians do not like John McCain. I do agree that he is not a maverick but I don’t know if I would focus it only on hawkishness.
  • Shapiro makes a very good point. It is time that we all care about the truth over partisanship.
  • Chait continues to be one of the top liberal writers in the country. I agree – they will weaken the regulations but the Obama legacy needs to continue.

Daily Distraction

First, this portion of the blog continues to make my head hurt. I really need to find other things to do to distract myself. But between working and life, I really do not do much else.

Second, I want to finish a book this month. I have not been able to focus on reading for some time. Instead, I try to read all of the comics that I buy each week. But in most cases, I end up reading nothing. After working, reading the news, and then writing this blog, my eyes hurt.

Third, that book is My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante. Just about every podcast that I listen to has recommended the book and I need to sit down and just read it. Hopefully, I will have the opportunity this weekend to close the doors and read. If I remember right, I will.

Fourth, how do all of you have the time to read and relax if you work full-time?

Lastly, if you’ve made it this far, please comment below. I spend a lot of time writing these blogs and researching the content over my lunch breaks and then after work.

One Sentence Story

I got two free donuts because I had been mistakenly paying for coffee refills for months.

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