State bill seeks to bar job discrimination against communists

CARSON CITY - At a time when right-wing politicians are crying about the rise of socialism in America, the Nevada Legislature is moving in the opposite direction: It is poised to prohibit job discrimination against communists.

How could the state approve such a law in the first place? America has had socialists such as Eugene V. Debs and communists such as Gus Hall run for president multiple times. Back in 1905, nine Nevada state legislators were socialists.

But in the era of communist chaser U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy, R-Wis., and of Hollywood blacklisting, Nevada legislators passed a law that allowed employers to reject job applications from communists and their sympathizers and fire any communists on their staffs.

During the Cold War in the 1950s, McCarthy often made unsubstantiated claims that a large number of communists and Soviet Union spies worked for the government. Hollywood screenwriters and actors were blocked from working if they were suspected of being communists or did not reveal the identity of communists they knew.

The 61-year-old state law remains in the Nevada Revised Statutes, but it is not known whether it has ever been enforced, according to testimony made at a hearing.

The Legislative Commission this week announced it will introduce a bill for consideration at the 2013 session that would repeal the law.

Staffers said they had no choice but to draw up the bill, which would repeal a state law that somehow has remained on the law books, though Congress in 1971 repealed similar federal laws. The move was supported by all 12 members of the Legislative Commission. Legislators from both major political parties serve on the committee.

State lawmakers really didn't even need to pass the anti-communist law. Back in the 1950s state voters approved a constitutional amendment that made Nevada a right-to-work state. In right-to-work states, employers don't even need to give a reason to fire communists or anyone else, although right-to-work laws cannot violate federal laws that prevent civil rights discrimination or apply in cases where employment practices are covered by labor contracts.

In the early 1950s, Nevada politics were dominated by famed anti-communist U.S. Sen. Patrick McCarran, D-Nev., and he had just passed in Congress a bill creating the federal Subversive Activity Control Board.

This law required the registration of communist-front organizations and the registration of communists with the U.S. attorney general. With passage of this law, states then could approve their own anti-communist laws. The U.S. Supreme Court twice upheld the constitutionality of the registration requirements.

Congress abolished the board in 1968, but the Supreme Court did not rule all sections of the law were unconstitutional until 1993.

Former U.S. Rep. Barbara Vucanovich, R-Nev., said Friday she met McCarran once or twice and remembers him as being friendly but has no recollection of the anti-communist law.

At the time she was involved in Republican Women's Club activities. She was not elected to Congress until 1982, well after the uproar over communism occurred. No Nevada state legislators who voted on the anti-communist law are alive today.

"How could they do it?" asked Vucanovich, 91, about the Nevada legislators who approved the statute. "I am amazed we had this law."

President Harry Truman vetoed McCarran's bill, but Congress overrode his veto. Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson appointed members to the federal Subversive Activity Control Board before it was abolished.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at or 775-687-3901.