1954 April 30

History Teacher Fired for Taking the Fifth Amendment

 

Terry Rosenbaum, history teacher at Tilden High School in New York City, was fired on this day for taking the Fifth Amendment the previous November before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations about whether he was or ever had been a member of the Communist Party. A section of the New York City Charter provided that a city employee automatically forfeited his or her job for invoking the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.

By 1954, so many people had invoked their constitutional privilege against self-incrimination in investigations of political beliefs and associations that there was a national uproar over so-called “Fifth Amendment Communists.” Many anti-Communist activists wanted to amend the Fifth Amendment so as to force people to testify in such investigations. See the defense of the historic Fifth Amendment privilege by Harvard Law School Dean Erwin Griswold on February 5, 1954. Later that year, on August 20, 1954, Congress passed a federal immunity act which allowed investigators to compel witnesses to testify in return for immunity from prosecution.

Read Dean Griswold’s book: Erwin N. Griswold, The 5th Amendment Today: Three Speeches (1955)

Learn more: Leonard Levy, Origins of the Fifth Amendment: The Right Against Self-incrimination (1968)

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