Reagan v. Wald Historic Case

At a Glance

Date Filed: 

June 1982

Current Status 

On June 28, 1984, in a 5-to-4 decision, the court upheld the Reagan administration restrictions on travel to Cuba.


The Cuba Resource Group, the Center for Cuban Studies, and a number of individuals,

Case Description 

The restrictions to travel to Cuba were first announced by the Treasury Department on April 20, 1982; the regulations severely limited travel to Cuba by prohibiting travel-related financial transactions. The only people permitted to travel to Cuba without prior government approval were government officials, those with family members in Cuba, and those “traveling for the purpose of gathering news, making news or documentary films, engaging in a professional research, or for similar activities.” Others seeking to travel to Cuba for “humanitarian reasons” or “for the purpose of public performance, exhibitions or similar activities” had to apply to the Treasury Department for a specific license. Travel for any other purpose was barred.

In June 1982, CCR along with the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee (NECLC), the ACLU, and the NLG challenged the restrictions on behalf of a number of individuals, the Cuba Resource Group, and the Center for Cuban Studies. The suit argued that the regulations deprived persons of their constitutional right to travel, were at odds with a 1978 amendment to the Passport Act, violated requirements set forth in the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, and were completely without statutory authority. While the trial court denied a preliminary injunction, the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and ruled that the restrictions were invalid. The government petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari.

On June 28, 1984, in a 5-to-4 decision, the court upheld the Reagan administration restrictions on travel to Cuba. Justice Rehnquist, who wrote the majority opinion, was joined by Chief Justice Burger and Justice White, Stevens, and O’Connor. Dissenting were Justices Brennan, Blackmun, Marshall, and Powell. Justice Rehnquist’s opinion upholding the validity of the restrictions reflected a disregard for individual liberties and for Congress’s legislative efforts to reassert control over what has been called “a prime example of the unchecked proliferation of presidential power.” To a majority of the court, “foreign policy” considerations automatically validated executive action at the expense of our rights.