Rockwell Kent wanted to travel to England to attend a meeting of the World Council of Peace in Helsinki, Finland. He was denied a passport because he was allegedly a Communist and was alleged to have "a consistent and prolonged adherence to the Communist Party line." Kent, represented by Leonard Boudin of the Emergency Civil Liberties Union, sued in U.S. District Court for declaratory relief. The District Court granted summary judgment against him.
On appeal, Kent's case was heard with that of Dr. Walter Briehl, a psychiatrist. When Briehl applied for a passport, the Director of the Passport Office asked him to supply an affidavit with respect to his membership in the Communist Party. Briehl, like Kent, refused. His application for a passport was tentatively disapproved. Briehl filed his complaint in the District Court, which held that his case was indistinguishable from Kent's and dismissed it.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit heard the two cases en banc and affirmed the District Court by a divided vote. 101 U.S.App.D.C. 278, 239, 248 F.2d 600, 561.
The cases were heard on writ of certiorari. 355 U.S. 881. The Court reversed the Court of Appeals. Kent v Dulles was the first case in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the right to travel is a part of the "liberty" of which the citizen cannot be deprived without due process of law under the Fifth Amendment. It did not decide the extent to which this liberty right can be curtailed. The Court was first concerned with the extent, if any, to which Congress had authorized its curtailment by the U.S. Secretary of State. The Court found that the Secretary of State exceeded his authority by refusing to issue passports to Communists.
It did not rule on the constitutionality of the law because the only law which Congress had passed expressly curtailing the movement of Communists across U.S. borders had yet to take effect. Six years later, the Court in Aptheker v. Secretary of State, found that the law violated First Amendment principles and left unsettled the extent to which this liberty right to travel can be curtailed.