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Speiser v. Randall, 357 U.S. 513 (1958), was a U.S.marker Supreme Courtmarker case involved the State of Californiamarker's refusal to grant to ACLU lawyer Lawrence Speiser, a veteran of World War II, a tax exemption because the person refused to sign a loyalty oath as required by a California law enacted in 1954. The court reversed a lower court ruling that the loyalty oath provision did not violate the appellants' First Amendment rights.


The State of California allowed a number of tax exemptions one of which was an exemption of property tax for veterans of World War II. Anyone desiring to claim the exemption must complete a standard form of application and submit the form with the local tax assessor.

In 1954, the form was revised to add a loyalty oath which the applicant must sign which stated "I do not advocate the overthrow of the Government of the United States or of the State of California by force or violence or other unlawful means, nor advocate the support of a foreign government against the United States in event of hostilities."

The appellants refused to sign the oath contending the condition of requiring the oath in order to obtain a tax exemption was unconstitutional. The assessors denied the exemption solely because the appellants had refused to execute the oath by signature. The assessors based their reasoning on Article XX, 19, of the California Constitution adopted in a general election in 1952 which includes language similar to the text of the loyalty oath.


Was the oath requirement a violation of the appellants' First Amendment rights as well as a violation of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.


The appellees argued that a tax exemption is a privilege and that its denial did not infringe on free speech. The lower California courts did not agree with this contention recognizing that conditions imposed on privileges provided by the state should be reasonable. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed.

However the Supreme Court of Californiamarker did construe the constitutional amendment as denying the tax exemption only to claimants who may be criminally punished under the California Criminal Syndicalism Act (California Statute 1919, c. 188) or the Federal Smith Act (18 U.S.C. 2385).

The U.S. Supreme Court in its review asked a more basic questions, with the loyalty oath has California chosen a fair method to determine if a tax exemption claimant is in fact someone to whom the criminal acts specified applies. In other words, though it is reasonable to deny a claimant a tax exemption if the claimant is involved in a criminal behavior, has the state arrived at a mechanism which demonstrates the criminal behavior?

The court ruled that because the state requires the claimant to show they are not advocating state overthrow hence are not criminals within the applicable laws, the loyalty oath requirement to obtain the tax exemption is unconstitutional. The burden of proof for a criminal action rests on the state and not on the individual private citizen. In other cases, the Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of loyalty oaths requirements but those involved public officials and not private citizens.

See also

Loyalty Oaths upheld:

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