250 U.S. 273 (1919), Blair v. United States

Citation:250 U.S. 273, 39 S.Ct. 468, 63 L.Ed. 979
Party Name:Blair v. United States
Case Date:June 02, 1919
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 273

250 U.S. 273 (1919)

39 S.Ct. 468, 63 L.Ed. 979

Blair

v.

United States

United States Supreme Court

June 2, 1919

ERROR TO THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK

Syllabus

It is the duty of this court to refrain from passing upon the constitutionality of an act of Congress when the interests of the party attacking it do not entitle him to raise the question. P. 278.

Held, that witnesses subpoenaed in a grand jury investigation of possible violations of the Corrupt Practices Act of June 25, 1910, as amended, and of possible perjury in connection therewith, had no standing to question the power of Congress, under Art. I, § 4, of the Constitution, to enact provisions for regulation and control of primary elections of candidates for the office of United States Senator. P. 279.

Under the Fifth Amendment and the legislation of Congress, a federal

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grand jury has a broad power of investigation and inquisition; the scope of its inquiries is not to be narrowly limited by questions of propriety or forecasts of probable results; the examination of witnesses need not be preceded by a formal charge against a particular individual, and witnesses, duly subpoenaed, must attend and answer the questions propounded in the inquiry, subject to the right to be protected from self-incrimination, and excluding matters specially privileged by law. P. 281.

A witness summoned to give testimony before a grand jury in the District Court is not entitled to refuse to answer, when ordered by the court, upon the ground that the court and jury are without jurisdiction over the supposed offense under investigation. P. 282.

253 F. 800, affirmed.

The cases are stated in the opinion.

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PITNEY, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE PITNEY delivered the opinion of the court.

Three of these cases come here on writs of error, the other three on appeals. The writs bring up final orders adjudging plaintiffs in error guilty of contempt of court because of their refusal to obey an order directing them to answer certain questions asked of them before a federal grand jury, and committing them to the custody of the United States marshal until they should comply. The appeals bring under review final orders discharging writs of habeas corpus sued out by appellants to review their detention under the original orders of commitment and remanding them to the custody of the marshal. Blair, Templeton, and Phillips are plaintiffs in error, as well as appellants.

It appears that, in October, 1918, the federal grand jury of the Southern District of New York was making inquiry concerning supposed violations of § 125 of the Criminal Code (relating to perjury) and of the so-called Corrupt Practices Act of June 25, 1910, c. 392, 36 Stat. 822, as amended, in connection with the verification and filing in that district of reports to the Secretary of the Senate of the United States made by a candidate for nomination as Senator at a primary election held in the State of Michigan on August 27, 1918. Phillips was served with a subpoena requiring him to appear and testify before this grand jury. Blair and Templeton

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were subpoenaed to appear and testify and also to produce certain records, correspondence, and other documentary evidence. All were served in the State of Michigan. They appeared before the grand jury in response to the subpoenas, were severally sworn, and were examined by counsel for the United States. Each witness, after answering preliminary questions, asked that he be informed of the object and purpose of the inquiry and against whom it was directed, whereupon he...

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