Rosenberg v. United States 346 U.S. 273 (1953)

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ROSENBERG v. UNITED STATES 346 U.S. 273 (1953)

Over the vehement protests of three of its members (hugo black, felix frankfurter, and william o. douglas), the vinson court vacated a stay of execution issued by Douglas that had halted the scheduled electrocution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. The Rosenbergs had been convicted and sentenced to death in 1951 for allegedly violating the 1917 espionage act by passing secret information about the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union. Douglas had refused to join Black, Frankfurter, and harold burton in earlier efforts to review the case by means of certiorari and habeas corpus, but on June 17, 1953, after the Court had recessed for the term, he stayed the Rosenbergs' execution on the ground that their lawyers had raised a new argument deserving judicial scrutiny—the couple should have been tried under the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 rather than the earlier statute.

Responding to intense pressure from the Eisenhower administration, Chief Justice fred vinson recalled the Justices to Washington for special session. On June 19, a 6–3 majority overturned the stay and rejected Douglas's interpretation of the Atomic Energy Act. The Rosenbergs were executed that same evening. Frankfurter, who, with Black, had urged a full review of the case since the earliest appeals, later wrote that this last act of the Vinson Court was "the most disturbing single experience I have had during my term of service on the Court."

Michael E. Parrish


Radosh, Ronald and Milton, Joyce 1983 The Rosenberg File: A Search for the Truth. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

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Rosenberg v. United States 346 U.S. 273 (1953)

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