273 U.S. 135 (1927), 28, McGrain v. Daugherty

Docket Nº:No. 28
Citation:273 U.S. 135, 47 S.Ct. 319, 71 L.Ed. 580
Party Name:McGrain v. Daugherty
Case Date:January 17, 1927
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 135

273 U.S. 135 (1927)

47 S.Ct. 319, 71 L.Ed. 580




No. 28

United States Supreme Court

Jan. 17, 1927

Argued December 5, 1924




1. Deputies, with authority to execute warrants, may be appointed by the Sergeant-at-Arms of the Senate, under a standing order of the Senate, such appointments being sanctioned by practice and by acts of Congress fixing the compensation of the appointees and providing for its payment. P. 154.

2. Such deputy may serve a warrant of attachment issued by the President of the Senate and addressed only to the Sergeant-at-Arms, in pursuance of a Senate resolution contemplating service by either. P. 155.

3. A warrant of the Senate for attachment of a person who ignored a subpoena from a Senate committee is supported by oath within the requirement of the Fourth Amendment when based upon the committee's report of the facts of the contumacy, made on the committee's own knowledge and having the sanction of the oath of office of its members. P. 156.

4. Subpoenas issued by a committee of the Senate to bring before it a witness to testify in an investigation authorized by the Senate are as if issued by the Senate itself. P. 158.

5. Therefore, in case of disobedience, the fact that the subpoena, and the contumacy related only to testimony sought by a committee is not a valid objection to a resolution of the Senate, and warrant issued thereon, requiring the defaulting witness to appear before the bar of the Senate itself, then and there to give the desired testimony. P. 158.

6. Each house of Congress has power, through its own process, to compel a private individual to appear before it or one of its committees and give testimony needed to enable it efficiently to exercise a legislative function belonging to it under the Constitution. P. 160.

7. This has support in long practice of the houses separately, and in repeated Acts of Congress, all amounting to a practical construction of the Constitution. Pp. 161, 167, 174.

8. The two houses of Congress, in their separate relations, have not only such powers as are expressly granted them by the Constitution, but also such auxiliary powers as are necessary and appropriate

Page 136

to make the express powers effective, but neither is invested with "general" power to inquire into private affairs and compel disclosures. P. 173.

9. A witness may rightfully refuse to answer where the bounds of the power are exceeded or the questions are not pertinent to the matter under inquiry. P. 176.

10. A resolution of the Senate directing a committee to investigate the administration of the Department of Justice -- whether its functions were being properly discharged or were being neglected or misdirected, and particularly whether the Attorney General and his assistants were performing or neglecting their duties in respect of the institution and prosecution of proceedings to punish crimes and enforce appropriate remedies against the wrongdoers, specific instances of alleged neglect being recited -- concerned a subject on which legislation could be had which would be materially aided by the information which the investigation was calculated to elicit. P. 176.

11. It is to be presumed that the object of the Senate in ordering such an investigation is to aid it in legislating. P. 178.

12. It is not a valid objection to such investigation that it might disclose wrongdoing or crime by a public officer named in the resolution. P. 179.

13. A resolution of the Senate directing attachment of a witness who had disobeyed a committee subpoena to such an investigation, and declaring that his testimony is sought with the purpose of obtaining "information necessary as a basis for such legislative and other action as the Senate may deem necessary and proper," supports the inference, from the earlier resolution, of a legislative object. The suggestion of "other action" does not overcome the other part of the declaration, and thereby invalidate the attachment proceedings. P. 180.

14. In view of the character of the Senate as a continuing body, and its power to continue or revive, with its original functions, the committee before which the investigation herein involved was pending, the question of the legality of the attachment of the respondent as a contumacious witness did not become moot with the expiration of the Congress during which the investigation and the attachment were ordered. P. 180.

299 F. 620 reversed.

Appeal from a final order of the district court in habeas corpus discharging the respondent, Mally S.

Page 137

Daugherty, from the custody of John J. McGrain, Deputy Sergeant at Arms of the Senate, by whom he had been arrested, as a contumacious witness, under a warrant of attachment, issued by the President of the Senate in pursuance of a Senate resolution.

Page 150

VANDEVANTER, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE VAN DEVANTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is an appeal from the final order in a proceeding in habeas corpus discharging a recusant witness held in custody under process of attachment issued from the United States Senate in the course of an investigation which it was making of the administration of the Department of Justice. A full statement of the case is necessary.

The Department of Justice is one of the great executive departments established by congressional enactment, and has charge, among other things, of the initiation and prosecution of all suits, civil and criminal, which may be brought in the right and name of the United States to compel obedience or punish disobedience to its laws, to recover property obtained from it by unlawful or fraudulent means, or to safeguard its rights in other respects, and also of the assertion and protection of its interests when it or its officers are sued by others. The Attorney General is the head of the department, and its functions are all to be exercised under his supervision and direction.1

[47 S.Ct. 321] Harry M. Daugherty became the Attorney General March 5, 1921, and held that office until March 28, 1924,

Page 151

when he resigned. Late in that period, various charges of misfeasance and nonfeasance in the Department of Justice after he became its supervising head were brought to the attention of the Senate by individual senators and made the basis of an insistent demand that the department be investigated to the end that the practices and deficiencies which, according to the charges, were operating to prevent or impair its right administration might be definitely ascertained and that appropriate and effective measures might be taken to remedy or eliminate the evil. The Senate regarded the charges as grave and requiring legislative attention and action. Accordingly, it formulated, passed, and invited the House of Representatives to pass (and that body did pass) two measures taking important litigation then in immediate contemplation out of the control of the Department of Justice and placing the same in charge of special counsel to be appointed by the President,2 and also adopted a resolution authorizing and directing a select committee of five senators:

to investigate circumstances and facts, and report the same to the Senate, concerning the alleged failure of Harry M. Daugherty, Attorney General of the United States, to prosecute properly violators of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and the Clayton Act against monopolies and unlawful restraint of trade; the alleged neglect and failure of the said Harry M. Daugherty, Attorney General of the United States, to arrest and prosecute Albert B. Fall, Harry F. Sinclair, E. L. Doheny, C. R. Forbes, and their coconspirators in defrauding the government, as well as the alleged neglect and failure of the said Attorney General to arrest and prosecute many others for violations of federal statutes, and his alleged failure

Page 152

to prosecute properly, efficiently, and promptly, and to defend, all manner of civil and criminal actions wherein the government of the United States is interested as a party plaintiff or defendant. And said committee is further directed to inquire into, investigate, and report to the Senate the activities of the said Harry M. Daugherty, Attorney General, and any of his assistants in the Department of Justice which would in any manner tend to impair their efficiency or influence as representatives of the government of the United States.

The resolution also authorized the committee to send for books and papers, to subpoena witnesses, to administer oaths, and to sit at such times and places as it might deem advisable.3

In the course of the investigation, the committee issued and caused to be duly served on Mally S. Daugherty -- who was a brother of Harry M. Daugherty and president of the Midland National Bank of Washington Court House, Ohio -- a subpoena commanding him to appear before the committee for the purpose of giving testimony bearing on the subject under investigation, and to bring with him the

deposit ledgers of the Midland National Bank since November 1, 1920; also note files and transcript of owners of every safety vault; also records of income drafts; also records of any individual account or accounts showing withdrawals of amounts of $25,000 or over during above period.

The witness failed to appear.

A little later in the course of the investigation, the committee issued and caused to be duly served on the same witness another subpoena, commanding him to appear before it for the purpose of giving testimony relating to the subject under consideration, nothing being

Page 153

said in this subpoena about bringing records, books, or papers. The witness again failed to appear, and no excuse was offered by him for either failure.

The committee then made a report to the Senate stating that the subpoenas had been issued, that, according to the...

To continue reading