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decided: July 5, 1984.



Burger, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which White, Rehnquist, Stevens, and O'connor, JJ., joined, and in Parts I, II-B, III, and IV of which Powell, J., joined. Powell, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, post, p. 859. Brennan, J., post, p. 862, and Marshall, J., post, p. 862, filed dissenting opinions. Blackmun, J., took no part in the decision of the case.

Author: Burger

[ 468 U.S. Page 843]

 CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.

We noted probable jurisdiction to decide (a) whether § 12(f) of the Military Selective Service Act, 96 Stat. 748, 50 U. S. C. App. § 462(f), which denies federal financial assistance under Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965 to male students who fail to register for the draft under the Act, is a bill of attainder; and (b) whether § 12(f) compels those students who elect to request federal aid to incriminate themselves in violation of the Fifth Amendment.


Section 3 of the Military Selective Service Act, 62 Stat. 605, as amended, 50 U. S. C. App. § 453, empowers the President to require every male citizen and male resident alien between the ages of 18 and 26 to register for the draft. Sections 12(b) and (c) of that Act impose criminal penalties for failure to register. On July 2, 1980, President Carter issued a Proclamation requiring young men to register within 30 days of their 18th birthday. Presidential Proclamation No. 4771, 3 CFR 82 (1981).

[ 468 U.S. Page 844]

     Appellee students (hereafter appellees) are anonymous individuals who were required to register before September 1, 1982. On September 8, Congress enacted the Department of Defense Authorization Act of 1983, Pub. L. 97-252, 96 Stat. 718. Section 1113(a) of that Act added § 12(f) to the Military Selective Service Act. Section 12(f)(1) provides that any person who is required to register and fails to do so "in accordance with any proclamation" issued under the Military Selective Service Act "shall be ineligible for any form of assistance or benefit provided under title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965."*fn1 Section 12(f)(2) requires applicants for Title IV assistance to file with their institutions of higher education a statement attesting to their compliance with the draft registration law and regulations issued under it. Sections 12(f)(3) and (4) require the Secretary of Education, in agreement with the Director of Selective Service, to prescribe methods for verifying such statements of compliance and to issue implementing regulations.

Regulations issued in final form on April 11, 1983, see 48 Fed. Reg. 15578, provide that no applicant may receive Title IV aid unless he files a statement of compliance certifying that he is registered with the Selective Service or that, for a specified reason, he is not required to register. 34 CFR § 668.24(a) (1983). The regulations allow a student who has not previously registered, although required to do so, to establish eligibility for Title IV aid by registering, filing a statement of registration compliance, and, if required, verifying that he is registered. § 668.27(b)(1). The statement of compliance does not require the applicant to state the date that he registered.*fn2

[ 468 U.S. Page 845]

     In November 1982 the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota seeking to enjoin the operation of § 12(f). The District Court dismissed the Minnesota Group for lack of standing but allowed three anonymous students to intervene as plaintiffs. 557 F.Supp. 923 (1983); 557 F.Supp. 925 (1983). The intervenors alleged that they reside in Minnesota, that they need financial aid to pursue their educations, that they intend to apply for Title IV assistance, and that they are legally required to register with the Selective Service but have failed to do so. This suit was informally consolidated with a separate action brought by three other anonymous students making essentially the same allegations as the intervenors.

In March 1983 the District Court granted a preliminary injunction restraining the Selective Service System from enforcing § 12(f). After finding that appellees had demonstrated a threat of irreparable injury, the court held that appellees were likely to succeed on the merits. First, the District Court thought it likely that § 12(f) was a bill of attainder.

[ 468 U.S. Page 846]

     The court interpreted the statutory bar to student aid as applicable to students who registered late. Thus interpreted, the statute "clearly singles out an ascertainable group based on past conduct" and "legislatively determines the guilt of this ascertainable group." Doe v. Selective Service System, 557 F.Supp. 937, 942, 943 (1983). The court viewed the denial of aid as punishment within the meaning of the Bill of Attainder Clause because it "deprives students of the practical means to achieve the education necessary to pursue many vocations in our society." Id., at 944. Second, the District Court found it likely that § 12(f) violated appellees' Fifth Amendment privilege against compelled self-incrimination. In the District Court's view, the statement of compliance required by § 12(f)(2) compels students who have not registered for the draft and need financial aid to confess to the fact of nonregistration, which is a crime. 50 U. S. C. App. § 462(a).

On June 16, 1983, the District Court entered a permanent, nationwide injunction against the enforcement of § 12(f). The court held that the regulations making late registrants eligible for aid were inconsistent with the statute and concluded that the statute was an unconstitutional attainder. It also held the statute to violate appellees' constitutional privilege against compelled self-incrimination.

On June 29, we stayed the District Court's June 16 order pending the timely docketing and final disposition of this appeal. Selective Service System v. Doe, 463 U.S. 1215. We noted probable jurisdiction on December 5, 1983, 464 U.S. 1006, and we reverse.


The District Court held that § 12(f) falls within the category of congressional actions that Art. I, § 9, cl. 3, of the Constitution bars by providing that "[no] Bill of Attainder . . . shall be passed." A bill of attainder was most recently described by this Court as "a law that legislatively determines guilt and inflicts punishment upon an identifiable individual

[ 468 U.S. Page 847]

     without provision of the protections of a judicial trial." Nixon v. Administrator of General Services, 433 U.S. 425, 468 (1977); see United States v. O'Brien, 391 U.S. 367, 383, n. 30 (1968); United States v. Lovett, 328 U.S. 303, 315 (1946). Appellants argue that § 12(f) does not satisfy any of these three requirements, i. e., specification of the affected persons, punishment, and lack of a judicial trial.*fn3


In forbidding bills of attainder, the draftsmen of the Constitution sought to prohibit the ancient practice of the Parliament in England of punishing without trial "specifically designated persons or groups." United States v. Brown, 381 U.S. 437, 447 (1965). Historically, bills of attainder generally named the persons to be punished. However, "[the] singling out of an individual for legislatively prescribed punishment constitutes an attainder whether the individual is called by name or described in terms of conduct which, because it is past conduct, operates only as a designation of particular persons." Communist Party of United States v. Subversive Activities Control Board, 367 U.S. 1, 86 (1961). When past activity serves as "a point of reference for the ascertainment of particular persons ineluctably designated by the legislature" for punishment, id., at 87, the Act may be an attainder. See Cummings v. Missouri, 4 Wall. 277, 324 (1867).

In Cummings the Court struck down a provision of the Missouri post-Civil War Reconstruction Constitution that

[ 468 U.S. Page 848]

     barred persons from various professions unless they stated under oath that they had not given aid or comfort to persons engaged in armed hostility to the United States and had never "'been a member of, or connected with, any order, society, or organization, inimical to the government of the United States.'" Id., at 279. The Court recognized that the oath was required, not "as a means of ascertaining whether parties were qualified" for their professions, id., at 320, but rather to effect a punishment for having associated with the Confederacy. Although the State Constitution did not mention the persons or groups required to take the oath by name, the Court concluded that in creating a qualification having no possible relation to their fitness for their chosen professions, the Constitution was intended "to reach the person, not the calling." Ibid.

On the same day that it decided Cummings, the Court struck down a similar oath that was required for admission to practice law in the federal courts. Ex parte Garland, 4 Wall. 333 (1867). Like the oath considered in Cummings, the oath "[operated] as a legislative decree of perpetual exclusion" from the practice of law, id., at 377, since past affiliation with the Confederacy prevented attorneys from taking the oath without perjuring themselves. See Cummings v. Missouri, supra, at 327. In both Cummings and Garland, the persons in the group disqualified were defined entirely by irreversible acts committed by them.

The District Court in this case viewed § 12(f) as comparable to the provisions of the Reconstruction laws declared unconstitutional in Cummings and Garland, because it thought the statute singled out nonregistrants and made them ineligible for aid based on their past conduct, i. e., failure to register. To understand the District Court's analysis, it is necessary to turn to its construction of the statute. The court noted that § 12(f) disqualifies applicants for financial assistance unless they have registered "in accordance with any proclamation issued under [§ 3 of the Military Selective Service Act]," and

[ 468 U.S. Page 849]

     that Proclamation No. 4771 requires those born after January 1, 1963, to register within 30 days of their 18th birthday. See 3 CFR 82 (1981). In the court's view, the language of § 12(f), coupled with the Proclamation's 30-day registration requirement, precluded late registrants from qualifying for Title IV aid. Having construed § 12(f) as precluding late registration, the District Court read the statute to be retrospective, in that it denies financial assistance to an identifiable group -- nonregistrants -- based on their past conduct. The District Court acknowledged that implementing regulations would allow students who had not previously registered to become eligible for Title IV benefits by registering, see 34 CFR § 668.27(b)(1) (1983), but the court declared those regulations to be void because they conflicted with what the District Court viewed as § 12(f)'s requirement of registration within the time prescribed by Proclamation No. 4771.

We reject the District Court's view that § 12(f) requires registration within the time fixed by Proclamation No. 4771. That view is plainly inconsistent with the structure of § 12(f) and with the legislative history. Subsection (f)(4) of the statute requires the Secretary of Education to issue regulations providing that "any person" to whom the Secretary proposes to deny Title IV assistance shall be given notice of the proposed denial and "not less than thirty days" after such notice to "[establish] that he has complied with the registration requirement." 50 U. S. C. App. § 462(f)(4). The statute clearly gives nonregistrants 30 days after receiving notice that they are ineligible for Title IV aid to register for the draft and qualify for aid. See 34 CFR § 668.27(b)(1) (1983). To require registration within the time fixed by the Presidential Proclamation would undermine this provision allowing "any person" 30 days after notification to establish compliance with the registration requirement. This was clearly a grace period.

The District Court also ignored the relevant legislative history. Congress' purpose in enacting § 12(f) was to encourage

[ 468 U.S. Page 850]

     registration by those who must register, but have not yet done so.*fn4 Proponents of the legislation emphasized that those failing to register timely can qualify for aid by registering late.*fn5 The District Court failed to take account of this legislative purpose. See Heckler v. Edwards, 465 U.S. 870 (1984). Nor did its construction of § 12(f) give adequate deference to the views of the Secretary of Education, who had helped to draft the statute. Miller v. Youakim, 440 U.S. 125, 144 (1979); see 128 Cong. Rec. 18363 (1982) (remarks of Rep. Solomon).

The judicial function is "not to destroy the Act if we can, but to construe it, if consistent with the will of Congress, so as to comport with constitutional limitations," CSC v. Letter Carriers, 413 U.S. 548, 571 (1973).*fn6 Section 12(f) does not make late registrants ineligible for Title IV aid.

Because it allows late registration, § 12(f) is clearly distinguishable from the provisions struck down in Cummings and Garland.*fn7 Cummings and Garland dealt with absolute barriers

[ 468 U.S. Page 851]

     to entry into certain professions for those who could not file the required loyalty oaths; no one who had served the Confederacy could possible comply, for his status was irreversible. By contrast, § 12(f)'s requirements, far from irreversible, can be met readily by either timely or late filing. "Far from attaching to . . . past and ineradicable actions," ineligibility for Title IV benefits "is made to turn upon continuingly contemporaneous fact" which a student who wants public assistance can correct. Communist Party of United States v. Subversive Activities Control Board, 367 U.S., at 87.


Even if the specificity element were deemed satisfied by § 12(f), the statute would not necessarily implicate the Bill of Attainder Clause. The proscription against bills of attainder reaches only statutes that inflict punishment on the specified individual or group. In determining whether a statute inflicts punishment within the proscription against bills of attainder, our holdings recognize that the severity of a sanction is not determinative of its character as punishment. Flemming v. Nestor, 363 U.S. 603, 616, and n. 9 (1960). That burdens are placed on citizens by federal authority does not make those burdens punishment. Nixon v. Administrator of General Services, 433 U.S., at 470; United States v. Lovett, 328 U.S., at 324 (Frankfurter, J., concurring).*fn8 Conversely, legislative intent to encourage compliance with the law does not establish that a statute is merely the legitimate regulation of conduct. Punishment is not limited solely

[ 468 U.S. Page 852]

     to retribution for past events, but may involve deprivations inflicted to deter future misconduct. United States v. Brown, 381 U.S., at 458-459. It is thus apparent that, though the governing criteria for an attainder may be readily indicated, "each case has turned on its own highly particularized context." Flemming v. Nestor, supra, at 616.

In deciding whether a statute inflicts forbidden punishment, we have recognized three necessary inquiries: (1) whether the challenged statute falls within the historical meaning of legislative punishment; (2) whether the statute, "viewed in terms of the type and severity of burdens imposed, reasonably can be said to further non-punitive legislative purposes"; and (3) whether the legislative record "evinces a congressional intent to punish." Nixon, supra, at 473, 475-476, 478. We conclude that under these criteria § 12(f) is not a punitive bill of attainder.


At common law, bills of attainder often imposed the death penalty; lesser punishments were imposed by bills of pains and penalties. The Constitution proscribes these lesser penalties as well as those imposing death. Cummings v. Missouri, 4 Wall., at 323. Historically used in England in times of rebellion or "violent political excitements," ibid., bills of pains and penalties commonly imposed imprisonment, banishment, and the punitive confiscation of property. Nixon, supra, at 474. In our own country, the list of punishments forbidden by the Bill of Attainder Clause has expanded to include legislative bars to participation by individuals or groups in specific employments or professions.*fn9

[ 468 U.S. Page 853]

     Section 12(f) imposes none of the burdens historically associated with punishment. As this Court held in Flemming v. Nestor, supra, at 617, "the sanction is the mere denial of a non-contractual governmental benefit. No affirmative disability or restraint is imposed," and Congress has inflicted "nothing approaching the 'infamous punishment' of imprisonment" or other disabilities historically associated with punishment.*fn10

Congress did not even deprive appellees of Title IV benefits permanently; appellees can become eligible for Title IV aid at any time simply by registering late and thus "carry the keys of their prison in their own pockets." Shillitani v. United States, 384 U.S. 364, 368 (1966). A statute that leaves open perpetually the possibility of qualifying for aid does not fall within the historical meaning of forbidden legislative punishment.


Our inquiry does not end with a determination that § 12(f) does not inflict punishment in its historical sense. To ensure that the Legislature has not created an impermissible penalty not previously held to be within the proscription against ...

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