Digital History>eXplorations>Japanese American Internment>Internment and the Law>The Alien Registration Act or Smith Act of 1940

The Alien Registration Act or Smith Act (18 USC 2385) of 1940

This act made it a criminal offense for anyone to "knowingly or willfully advocate, abet, advise, or teach the duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety of overthrowing the Government of the United States or of any State by force or violence, or for anyone to organize any association which teaches, advises, or encourages such an overthrow, or for anyone to become a member of or to affiliate with any such association." It also required all non-citizen adult residents to register with the government; within four months 4,741,971 aliens had registered under the Acts provisions.

The Act is best known for its use against political organizations and figures, mostly on the left. Prosecutions continued until a series of United States Supreme Court decisions in 1957 threw out numerous convictions under the Smith Act as unconstitutional. The statute remains on the books, however.

The Act was proposed by Congressman Howard Smith of Virginia, a right wing legislator who supported the poll tax and was a leader of the "anti-labor" bloc of Congressmen. It was signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

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