Gov. Brown repeals 1940s-era Subversive Organization Registration Law

Sutter, the Pembroke Welch Corgi belonging to Gov. Jerry Brown, sits in the sun as Brown, left, discusses a bill awaiting his signature with his Legislative Affairs Secretary Gareth Elliot this week.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

SACRAMENTO -- Gov. Jerry Brown acted Friday to repeal a World War II-era law that requires the registration of subversive organizations conceived “for the purpose of undermining and eventually destroying the democratic form of government” in California and the United States.

In all, Brown signed 12 bills Friday, including AB 1405, which repeals the Subversive Organization Registration Law enacted in 1941. During World War II, some political figures believed there were internal groups attempting to undermine the United States even as it fought wars against Japan and Germany. No organization ever registered under the law, state officials said.

Brown agreed with the Assembly Judiciary Committee analysis that the law is an “outdated, unutilized, and ineffective statute,” said Evan Westrup, a spokesman for the governor.


“It’s so unconstitutional it makes your lips pucker,” said Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski (D-Freemont), chairman of the Assembly Judiciary Committee that recommended the repeal.

The repeal was supported by groups including the American Civil Liberties Union.

“This statute is an unnecessary statutory remnant of the McCarthy era and is inconsistent with constitutional protections of free speech, freedom of association, and political affiliations,” the ACLU wrote to lawmakers.

A subversive organization was defined as any group, society, association, assembly or political party that was subject to foreign control or that advocates or teaches the “propriety of controlling, conducting, seizing, or overthrowing the U.S. or California government.”

Other bills signed by the governor include:

--AB 1005, expands the demographic data collected on judicial appointments to include disability and veteran status.

--AB 457, which eliminates the 10-day waiting period for corporate reorganizations in which shareholders have the right under dissenters’ rights to demand payment of cash for their shares.

--AB 813, which requires state and county election officials to post election results on their Internet sites for at least 10 years in a downloadable spreadsheet format.


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