Hatch Act

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The Hatch Act is a 1939 federal law that strictly limits the political activity of federal employees. It was designed to prevent the WPA from becomeing a national political machine, and remains the law. Civil Service reform had a long history; the Pendleton Act (1883), supplemented by executive orders of Presidents Grover Cleveland and Theodore Roosevelt, limited the political activities of classified employees. The Hatch Act (1939) extended limitations to unclassified employees (that is, political appointees) as well.

Gall (1995) chronicles the Hatch Act from its passing in 1939, through its amendment in 1940, and to its further amendment in 1993. New Mexico Senator Carl A. Hatch drafted "clean up government" legislation that included a provision prohibiting federal employees from taking an active part in partisan political activity. The United Federal Workers of America (UFWA), an affiliate of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) challenged the law's constitutionality, but the Supreme Court ultimately ruled in United Public Workers v. Mitchell (1947) that government's need for "orderly management of administration" was greater than the appellant's freedom of expression. Organized labor won the long struggle, when in 1993 Congress passed a new amendment removing the restrictions.

The 1939 law was named after Senator Carl Hatch of New Mexico, the law was officially known as "An Act to Prevent Pernicious Political Activities". There was also an earlier law, the Hatch Act of 1887, where Congress created agricultural experiment stations in each state.


  • Eccles, James R. The Hatch Act and the American Bureaucracy. (1981). 318 pp.
  • Fowler, Dorothy Ganfield. "Precursors of the Hatch Act," Mississippi Valley Historical Review 1960 47(2): 247-262. ISSN: 0161-391X
  • Gall, Gilbert. "The CIO & the Hatch Act: the Roosevelt Court and the Divided New Deal Legacy of the 1940s." Labor's Heritage 1995 7(1): 4-21. Issn: 1041-5904
  • Jones, Charles O. "Reevaluating the Hatch Act: a Report on the Commission on Political Activity of Government Personnel." Public Administration Review 1969 29(3): 249-254. Issn: 0033-3352 Fulltext: in Jstor and Ebsco
  • Masters, Marick F. and Leonard Bierman. "The Hatch Act and the Political Activities of Federal Employee Unions: A Need for Policy Reform," Public Administration Review, Vol. 45, No. 4 (Jul. - Aug., 1985), pp. 518-526 in JSTOR
  • Porter, David. "Senator Carl Hatch and the Hatch Act of 1939." New Mexico Historical Review 1973 48(2): 151-164. Issn: 0028-6206

See also