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

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

Page 274

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.

Page 276

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

Page 277

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 was informed by counsel for the United States that the inquiry was not directed against him (the witness). After this, each witness read to, and left with, the grand jury a typewritten statement to the effect that, upon advice of counsel, he refused to answer any questions pertaining to the matter under inquiry for the reason that the grand jury and the court were without jurisdiction to inquire into the conduct of a campaign in Michigan for the primary election of a United States Senator; that the Federal Corrupt Practices Act as amended was unconstitutional, and that no federal court or grand jury in any State had constitutional authority to conduct an inquiry regarding a primary election for United States Senator. Thereupon, each witness was asked by counsel for the United States whether he refused to testify for the reason that to do so would incriminate him, to which he made no other answer than to refer to the reasons for his refusal as set forth in his statement.

The grand jury made a written presentment of these facts to the district court, with a prayer that the parties named might be dealt with as contumacious witnesses.

Upon the coming in of the presentment, the witnesses appeared in person and by counsel in opposition to the petition of the grand jury, and contended that the Corrupt Practices Act as amended was unconstitutional and void, referring to the opinion of this court in United States v. Gradwell, 243 U.S. 476, 487. A hearing was had which

Page 278

went to the merits; the minutes of the grand jury were read and made a part of the presentment, and the matter was fully argued. At the conclusion of the hearing, the court directed the witnesses to answer the questions propounded to them before the grand jury. They were again called, were asked the same [39 S.Ct. 470] questions, and again refused to answer for the same reasons before assigned. The grand jury immediately made a further presentment, whereupon the court, after hearing the parties, adjudged appellants guilty of...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP
577 practice notes
  • 341 B.R. 615 (Bkrtcy.W.D.Mich. 2006), 05-10937, In re Basch
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Bankruptcy Courts Sixth Circuit
    • 12 Abril 2006
    ...is that we ought not to pass on questions of constitutionality... unless such adjudication is unavoidable."); Blair v. United States, 250 U.S. 273, 279, 39 S.Ct. 468, 63 L.Ed. 979 (1919) ("Considerations of propriety, as well as long-established practice, demand that we refrain fr......
  • 599 S.W.3d 409 (Ky. 2020), 2017-SC-000436-TG, Commonwealth v. Bredhold
    • United States
    • Kentucky Supreme Court of Kentucky
    • 26 Marzo 2020
    ...[the legislature] unless obliged to do so in the proper performance of our judicial function...." Blair v. United States, 250 U.S. 273, 279, 39 S.Ct. 468, 63 S.Ct. 979 (1919); accord Louisville/Jefferson Co. Metro Gov't v. TDC Group, LLC, 283 S.W.3d 657, 660 (K......
  • In re Leicht, 070798 FED01BC, MW 97-067
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Bankruptcy Courts First Circuit
    • 7 Julio 1998
    ...Lorillard v. Pons, 434 U.S. 575, 577 (1978) quoting Crowell v. Benson, 285 U.S. 22, 62 (1932)); see also Blair v. United States, 250 U.S. 273, 279 (1919)("Considerations of propriety, as well as long-established practice, demand that we refrain from passing upon the constitutionality o......
  • In re Pontius, 122209 MIWBC, GK 08-04124
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Bankruptcy Courts Sixth Circuit
    • 22 Diciembre 2009
    ...2279 (1984); see also Spector Motor Service, Inc. v. McLaughlin, 323 U.S. 101, 105, 65 S.Ct. 152, 154 (1944); Blair v. United States, 250 U.S. 273, 279, 39 S.Ct. 468, 470 (1919); Crook v. Baker, 813 F.2d 88, 91 (6th Cir. 1987). This judge has previously determined it unnecessary to rule upo......
  • Free signup to view additional results
562 cases
  • 341 B.R. 615 (Bkrtcy.W.D.Mich. 2006), 05-10937, In re Basch
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Bankruptcy Courts Sixth Circuit
    • 12 Abril 2006
    ...is that we ought not to pass on questions of constitutionality... unless such adjudication is unavoidable."); Blair v. United States, 250 U.S. 273, 279, 39 S.Ct. 468, 63 L.Ed. 979 (1919) ("Considerations of propriety, as well as long-established practice, demand that we refrain fr......
  • 599 S.W.3d 409 (Ky. 2020), 2017-SC-000436-TG, Commonwealth v. Bredhold
    • United States
    • Kentucky Supreme Court of Kentucky
    • 26 Marzo 2020
    ...[the legislature] unless obliged to do so in the proper performance of our judicial function...." Blair v. United States, 250 U.S. 273, 279, 39 S.Ct. 468, 63 S.Ct. 979 (1919); accord Louisville/Jefferson Co. Metro Gov't v. TDC Group, LLC, 283 S.W.3d 657, 660 (K......
  • In re Leicht, 070798 FED01BC, MW 97-067
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Bankruptcy Courts First Circuit
    • 7 Julio 1998
    ...Lorillard v. Pons, 434 U.S. 575, 577 (1978) quoting Crowell v. Benson, 285 U.S. 22, 62 (1932)); see also Blair v. United States, 250 U.S. 273, 279 (1919)("Considerations of propriety, as well as long-established practice, demand that we refrain from passing upon the constitutionality o......
  • In re Pontius, 122209 MIWBC, GK 08-04124
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Bankruptcy Courts Sixth Circuit
    • 22 Diciembre 2009
    ...2279 (1984); see also Spector Motor Service, Inc. v. McLaughlin, 323 U.S. 101, 105, 65 S.Ct. 152, 154 (1944); Blair v. United States, 250 U.S. 273, 279, 39 S.Ct. 468, 470 (1919); Crook v. Baker, 813 F.2d 88, 91 (6th Cir. 1987). This judge has previously determined it unnecessary to rule upo......
  • Free signup to view additional results
13 books & journal articles
  • The grand jury legal advisor: resurrecting the grand jury's shield.
    • United States
    • Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology Vol. 98 Nbr. 4, June 2008
    • 22 Junio 2008
    ...(122) LEVY, supra note 23, at 65-66, 68. (123) See Simmons, supra note 8, at 7. (124) Id. (125) Blair v. United States, 250 U.S. 273, 282 (1919). (126) June Barbara Kress, Rise to the Challenge: Federal Grand Jury Repression, Resistance, and Reform, 1970-1973 (June 16, 1978) (unpublished Ph......
  • Public choice theory and overcriminalization.
    • United States
    • Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy Vol. 36 Nbr. 2, March 2013
    • 22 Marzo 2013
    ...doubts whether any particular individual will be found properly subject to an accusation of crime.'" (quoting Blair v. United States, 250 U.S. 273, 282 (1919))). (105.) See, e.g., R. Enterprises, 498 U.S. at 301 (a district court may not quash a subpoena on relevancy grounds unless the......
  • I'm not dead yet: Katz, Jones, and the Fourth Amendment in the 21st century.
    • United States
    • Case Western Reserve Law Review Vol. 63 Nbr. 1, September 2012
    • 22 Septiembre 2012
    ...judicial function, when the question is raised by a party whose interests entitle him to raise it." (quoting Blair v. United States, 250 U.S. 273, 279 (1919))). (170.) See, e.g., Quon, 130 S. Ct. at 2629 ("The judiciary risks error by elaborating too fully on the Fourth Amendment ......
  • Ex nihilo - the Supreme Court's invention of constitutional standing.
    • United States
    • Environmental Law Vol. 45 Nbr. 4, September 2015
    • 22 Septiembre 2015
    ...also noted that the Framers of the Constitution were deeply familiar with the common law. Ex Parte Grossman, 267 U.S. 87,109 (1925). (57) 250 U.S. 273 (1919). (58) Id. at 279. (59) 521 U.S. 811(1997). (60) Id. at 833. (61) 555 U.S. 488 (2009). (62) Id. at 492; see also Fed. Election Comm'n ......
  • Free signup to view additional results