Jeffrey Kahn

Document Type



Ruth B. Shipley was one of the most powerful people in the federal government for almost thirty years, but she is virtually unknown today. As Chief of the State Department’s Passport Division, she had the unreviewable discretion to determine who could leave the United States, for how long, and under what conditions. If, in the language of her day, she determined that travel was “not in the interest of the United States,” that U.S. citizen stayed put. Mrs. Shipley denied passports to Paul Robeson, Arthur Miller, Linus Pauling, and many other Americans during the 1950s who were suspected of complicity in a world-wide Communist movement. Fear of communism then was the equivalent of fear of terrorism today. This Article argues that current policies restricting travel through the use of terrorist watchlists owe their conceptual origins to Mrs. Shipley. The Article examines how she exercised her power through a detailed study of original documents obtained from the National Archives, many of which have not seen the light of day since Mrs. Shipley signed them. No such historical study has previously been done. The Article concludes by comparing Mrs. Shipley’s regime to the current watchlisting procedures employed by the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center and the Transportation Security Administration, a component of the Department of Homeland Security. Today’s so-called “No Fly List,” used to deny boarding passes to suspect travelers, resonates with Mrs. Shipley’s passport power, which was rightly scaled back by the courts and Congress as incompatible with our constitutional values.