Bill of Attainder Definition

Learn about the definition and history of bills of attainder, with examples from English and American legal history. Explore case studies and statistics on this controversial legislative practice.

What is a Bill of Attainder?

A bill of attainder is a legislative act that declares a person or group guilty of a crime without a trial. It essentially serves as a punishment without due process of law.

History and Origins

The concept of bills of attainder dates back to medieval England, where they were used by monarchs to target political enemies or individuals deemed a threat to the crown.

Examples of Bill of Attainder

  • The English Bill of Attainder Act of 1459, which was used by King Henry VI to attain the Duke of York and several other nobles.
  • The United States Constitution prohibits the passage of bills of attainder in Article I, Section 9.
  • In the landmark case of Lovett v. United States (1946), the Supreme Court ruled that a law that prevented three government employees from receiving their salaries was a bill of attainder.

Case Studies

One notable case involving a bill of attainder is Korematsu v. United States (1944), where the Supreme Court upheld an executive order that led to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Although not technically a bill of attainder, the decision was widely criticized as a violation of due process.


According to the Constitution, bills of attainder are unconstitutional in the United States. However, some scholars argue that modern laws and regulations may have an equivalent effect by targeting specific individuals or groups without the need for a trial.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *