Loyalty Oaths: Associational Memberships
Third, courts have noted that loyalty oaths may not limit associational memberships and activities or presume disloyalty based on associational memberships and activities. Several Supreme Court cases involved challenges to state loyalty oaths that barred individuals from public employment due solely to their associational memberships. Based on a series of cases, the Court, in Wieman v. Updegraff (1952), identified three clear problems with this irrefutable categorization of disloyalty based on organizational associations.
In one situation, an individual may associate with an organization that was initially lawful and innocent but later takes on active threats of treason. Similarly, an individual may associate with an organization that had engaged in “subversive” activities but later changed its position and eliminated these activities so it conformed to lawful behavior. Equally notable, an individual’s membership by itself cannot determine that the person is aware of the activities and purposes of a group. Indeed, the Court, in Elfbrandt v. Russell (1966), even elaborated that mere organizational associations cannot qualify as violations to loyalty oaths. To determine whether one has been disloyal, the Court explained that more evidence is required, such as the individual’s subscription to treasonous or seditious acts and demonstrating a specific intent to further a group’s unlawful goals.