CERTIORARI TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT.
Stone, Roberts, Black, Reed, Frankfurter, Douglas, Murphy, Jackson, Rutledge
MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.
The petitioner was indicted on November 12, 1942, in a federal District Court in Pennsylvania for knowingly failing to perform a duty required of him under the Selective
Training and Service Act of 1940.*fn1 The particular charge was that, after his local board had classified him as a conscientious objector, he wilfully failed to obey the board's order to report for assignment to work of national importance.*fn2 Admitting that his refusal to obey the order was wilful, petitioner defended his conduct on the ground that he was entitled to a statutory exemption from all forms of national service, since the facts he had presented to the board showed that he was a "regular or duly ordained" minister.*fn3 The Act, he argued, does not make it a crime to refuse to obey an order to report for service if that order is based upon an erroneous classification, because there is no "duty" to comply with a mistaken order. This defense was seasonably urged but the District Court declined to recognize it, expressing the view that, "the Board has the decision of whether or not this man is to be listed as he claims he should be"; and at the
conclusion of the trial the jury was charged that, "if you find from the facts that he failed to report -- and there is no evidence to the contrary . . . -- it would be your duty to find him guilty." The result of the trial was a conviction and sentence to imprisonment for five years.
On appeal petitioner urged that the District Court had erred in refusing to permit a trial de novo on the merits of his claimed exemption. In the alternative, he argued that at least the Court should have reviewed the classification order to ascertain whether the local board had been "prejudicial, unfair, and arbitrary" in that it had failed to admit certain evidence which he offered, had acted on the basis of an antipathy to the religious sect of which he is a member, and had refused to classify him as a minister against the overwhelming weight of the evidence. The Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court per curiam, 135 F.2d 464. We granted certiorari because of the importance of the problems involved relating to administration of the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, upon which problems the Circuit Courts of Appeals have not expressed uniform views.*fn4
When the Selective Training and Service Act was passed in September, 1940, most of the world was at war. The preamble of the Act declared it "imperative to increase and train the personnel of the armed forces of the United States." The danger of attack by our present enemies, if not imminent, was real, as subsequent events have grimly demonstrated. The Congress was faced with the urgent necessity of integrating all the nation's people and forces for national defense. That dire consequences might flow from apathy and delay was well understood. Accordingly the Act was passed to mobilize national manpower with
the speed which that necessity and understanding required.
The mobilization system which Congress established by the Act is designed to operate as one continuous process for the selection of men for national service. Under the system, different agencies are entrusted with different functions but the work of each is integrated with that of the others. Selection of registrants for service, and deferments or exemptions from service, are to be effected within the framework of this machinery as implemented by rules and regulations prescribed by the President.*fn5 The selective service process begins with registration with a local board composed of local citizens. The registrant then supplies certain information on a questionnaire furnished by the board. On the basis of that information and, where appropriate, a physical examination, the board classifies him in accordance with standards contained in the Act and the Selective Service Regulations. It then notifies him of his classification. The ...