Home Supreme Court Decisions Kent v. Dulles

Kent v. Dulles

Kent v.
Dulles (1958) is a United States Supreme Court case that ruled that the right
to travel was one of the personal liberties described in the Fifth Amendment to which no citizen can be
denied without due process of the law. Rockwell Kent, who was attempting to
travel to England, found his passport denied because of his involvement with
the Communist Party.

Kent was told that he would not
be issued a passport unless he signed an affidavit that denied his relations
with the Communist Party. Kent determined that this was a violation of his
rights, and he sued in the District Court to obtain relief where he was once
again was asked and refused to sign an affidavit. Kent then appealed the
decision to the Supreme Court.

In the decision of Kent v. Dulles the Supreme Court examined the
three liberties expressed in the U.S. Constitution: life, liberty, and
property. The Justices determined that freedom of movement is included in this
phrase and is one of the basic rights of citizens. This right, which they
termed “freedom to travel”, cannot be denied to someone without due
process of the law.

The Supreme
Court also examined the extent of the authority of the Secretary of State to
deny passports to citizens. Based on the precedent of Korematsu v. United
States, it also took into consideration this authority during wartime. It found
that the Secretary of State, under the due process of the law, had the right to
deny passports under two conditions: if the applicant was using a passport in
order to participate in some kind of illegal conduct and if the applicant was
not a citizen of the United States. The Court determined that the primary use
of a passport in this case was to exit a country, which, under the freedoms provided
in the Fifth Amendment, fell under the category of the right to travel.

The Court
held that the Secretary of State did not have the authority to deny a passport
in this case. Kent was not offered the due process of the law when he was
denied his passport.

Kent v. Dulles was decided on 5-4. Kent was
offered a passport and, as a result of the ruling, the questions concerning
Communist Party affiliation were no longer included in passport applications.
Justice William Douglas wrote the majority opinion while Justice Clark wrote
the opinion for the dissenters. The main argument of the dissenters was that
the authority of the Secretary of the State did extend to the denial of
passports to those citizens whose travel would be contrary to the interests of
the United States. Kent had intended to attend a World Council of Peace Conference
which was said to promote the interests of the Communist Party.

Clark and the dissenters argued that during wartime or in peacetime the
Secretary could prevent citizens from traveling, under the assumption that it
posed a national security risk. However, the majority opinion held in Kent v.
Dulles that denying the right to travel without due process of the law was