What is the Logan Act?

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Is the Logan Act somehow related to the Marvel Universe’s Wolverine and a prohibition against lacing a mutant’s skeleton with adamantium?  Well, no, Wolverine is Canadian and the actual act wouldn’t apply to him.  But it does have to do with the acts that occur between private US citizens and foreign governments, so the other X-Men may want to read up.

The Logan Act has been in the news a lot lately thanks to the exploits of ex-National Security Advisor, Lieutenant General Michael Flynn.  The controversy there surrounds the communications that Flynn had with a Russian ambassador about the sanctions the Obama administration was imposing on Russia for their attempts at influencing the Presidential election.  Is what he did really a violation of the Logan Act?

Turning to the act, it reads:  “Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.”

Do we have an answer?  It is hard to say.  Virtually unamended since its passage in 1799, there has never been a reported prosecution under the Act.  The history of the Act then may be of interest. 

The Logan Act was passed in 1799 following the trip of Dr. George Logan, a private citizen who attempted to settle outstanding controversies with the revolutionary government of France after an unsuccessful attempt by American envoys.  While the French government ultimately decided to lift an embargo on American merchant ships and free American ships and seaman, Logan was not greeted at home as a returning hero.  Representative Roger Griswold of Connecticut would in response introduce the Logan Act that we know today as a way to prevent actions similar to Logan’s from happening in the future.  Has it worked?  Read more at https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL33265.pdf and Private Citizens in Foreign Affairs, 36 Emory L.J. 285 (1987).  Remember to see a reference librarian for tips and tricks for finding federal legislative history!

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Adam Mackie
Reference Librarian,University of Connecticut School of Law

Adam provides reference and research assistance to library patrons, presents formal and informal research instruction in law school courses, and develops research materials in a variety of formats.  Prior to the library, Adam worked as a legislative attorney at the Hawaii state capitol and served as a law clerk for the third circuit court located in Hilo.  He received his J.D. and M.L.I.Sc. from the University of Hawaii and earned an LL.M. in International Business and Economic Law from Kyushu University in Japan.