332 U.S. 1 (1947), 954, United States v. Petrillo

Docket Nº:No. 954
Citation:332 U.S. 1, 67 S.Ct. 1538, 91 L.Ed. 1877
Party Name:United States v. Petrillo
Case Date:June 23, 1947
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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332 U.S. 1 (1947)

67 S.Ct. 1538, 91 L.Ed. 1877

United States

v.

Petrillo

No. 954

United States Supreme Court

June 23, 1947

Argued May 5-6, 1947

[67 S.Ct. 1539] APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS

Syllabus

1. Section 506(a)(1) of the Communications Act, making it a crime, by the use or threat of use of force, violence, intimidation, or duress, to coerce, compel or constrain or attempt to coerce, compel or constrain a radio broadcasting licensee to employ or agree to employ, in connection with the conduct of the licensee's broadcasting business, any person or persons "in excess of the number of employees needed by such licensee to perform actual services," is not so vague, indefinite or uncertain as to violate the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Pp. 5-8.

(a) This question was properly presented to this Court for a decision on an appeal by the Government under the Criminal Appeals Act from a decision of a District Court dismissing, on the sole ground that the section was unconstitutional, an information charging a violation in substantially the statutory language. Pp. 5-6.

(b) The contention that persons of ordinary intelligence would be unable to know when their compulsive actions would force a person against his will to hire employees he did not need cannot be sustained. Pp. 6-7.

(c) When measured by common understanding and practices, the language of the statute provides an adequate warning as to what conduct falls under its ban, and marks boundaries sufficiently distinct for judges and juries fairly to administer the law in accordance with the will of Congress, and the Constitution requires no more. Pp. 7-8.

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2. It does not contravene the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment by denying equal protection of the laws to radio broadcasting employees as a class -- even though it provides no punishment for employers for violating the policy and leaves other classes of employees free to engage in the practices forbidden to radio workers. Pp. 8-9.

(a) This question was properly presented to this Court for a decision on an appeal by the Government under the Criminal Appeals Act from a decision of the District Court dismissing an information on the sole ground that the statute is unconstitutional as written. P. 8.

(b) It is not within the province of this Court to say that, because Congress has prohibited some practices within its power to prohibit, it must prohibit all within its power. Pp. 8-9.

3. On its face, the statute does not contravene the First Amendment by abridging freedom of speech; but, since the statute does not mention picketing, and it is uncertain on the record in this case whether it would have been applied so as to prohibit peaceful picketing, the question whether such an application would violate the First Amendment is not before this Court in a form appropriate for decision. Pp. 9-12.

4. On its face, the statute does not violate the provisions of the Thirteenth Amendment prohibiting slavery and involuntary servitude; but no decision is made on the question whether some possible application of it to particular persons in particular sets of circumstances would violate the Thirteenth Amendment, since questions of that kind are not presented by the record in this case in a form appropriate for decision by this Court. Pp. 12-13.

5. The Criminal Appeals Act does not require this Court to pass on constitutional questions prematurely decided by a district court's dismissal of an information which had not been tested by a motion to strike or for a bill of particulars. P. 10.

68 F.Supp. 845, reversed and remanded.

The District Court dismissed a criminal information charging respondent with violation of § 506(a)(1) of the Communications Act on the ground that the section was unconstitutional. 68 F.Supp. 845. On direct appeal by the Government under the Criminal Appeals Act, 18 U.S.C. (Supp. V, 1946) § 682, reversed and remanded, p. 13.

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Per curiam opinion.

MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

The District Court dismissed a criminal information filed against the respondent, James C. Petrillo, on the ground that the statute on which the information was founded was unconstitutional. 68 F.Supp. 845. The case is here on direct appeal by the Government as authorized by the Criminal Appeals Act. 18 U.S.C. Supp. V, § 682. The information charged a violation of the Communications Act of 1934, 48 Stat. 1064, 1102, as amended by an Act of April 16, 1946. 60 Stat. 89. The specific provisions of the Amendment charged to have been violated read:

SEC. 506. (a) It shall be unlawful, by the use or express or implied threat of the use of force, violence, intimidation, or duress, or by the use or express or implied threat of the use of other means, to coerce, compel, or constrain or attempt to coerce, compel, or constrain a licensee --

(1) to employ or agree to employ, in connection with the conduct of the broadcasting business of such licensee, any person or persons in excess of the number of employees needed by such licensee to perform actual services; or

* * * *

(d) Whoever willfully violates any provision of subsection (a) or (b) of this section shall, upon conviction

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thereof, be punished by imprisonment for not more than one year or by a fine of not more than $1,000, or both.

Pub.L. No.344, 79th Cong., 2d Sess.

The information alleged that a radio broadcasting company, holding a federal license, had, for several years immediately preceding, employed

certain persons who were sufficient and adequate in number to perform all of the actual services needed . . . in connection with the conduct of its broadcasting business.

The information further charged that the respondent, Petrillo,

willfully, by the use of force, intimidation, duress and by the use of other means, did attempt to coerce, compel and constrain said licensee to employ and agree to employ, in connection with the conduct of its radio broadcasting business, three additional persons not needed by said licensee to perform actual services. . . .

The coercion was allegedly accmplished in the following manner:

(1) By directing and causing three musicians, members of the Chicago Federation of Musicians, theretofore employed by the said licensee in connection with the conduct of its broadcasting business, to discontinue their employment with said licensee;

(2) By directing and causing said three employees and other persons, members of the Chicago Federation of Musicians, not to accept employment by said licensee; and

(3) By placing and causing to be placed a person as a picket in front of the place of business of said licensee.

The only challenge to the information was a motion to dismiss on the ground that the Act on which the information was based (a) abridges freedom of speech in contravention of the First Amendment; (b) is repugnant to the Fifth Amendment because it defines a crime in

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terms that are excessively vague, and denies equal protection of the law and liberty of contract; (c) imposes involuntary servitude in violation of the Thirteenth Amendment.1 The District Court dismissed the information, holding that the 1946 Amendment on which it was based violates the First, Fifth, and Thirteenth Amendments.

Two general principles which concern our disposition of appeals involving constitutional questions have special [67 S.Ct. 1541] application to this case: we have consistently refrained from passing on the constitutionality of a statute until a case involving it has reached a stage where the decision of a precise constitutional issue is a necessity. The reasons underlying this principle and illustrations of the strictness with which it has been applied appear in the opinion of the Court in the Rescue Army v. Municipal Court, 331 U.S. 549, 568, and cases there collected. And, in reviewing a direct appeal from a District Court under the Criminal Appeals Act, supra, our review is limited to the validity or construction of the contested statute. For "The Government's appeal does not open the whole case." United States v. Borden Co., 308 U.S. 188, 193.

First. One holding of the District Court was that, as contended here, the statute is repugnant to the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment because its words, "number of employees needed by such licensee," are so vague, indefinite and uncertain that "persons of ordinary intelligence cannot, in advance, tell whether a certain action or course of action would be within its prohibition. . . ." The information here, up to the place where it specifically charges the particular means used to coerce the licensee, substantially employs this statutory language. And the motion to dismiss on the ground of vagueness and indefiniteness

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squarely raises the question of whether the section invoked in the indictment is void in toto, barring all further actions under it, in this, and every other case. Cf. United States v. Thompson, 251 U.S. 407, 412. Many questions of a statute's constitutionality as applied can best await the refinement of the issues by pleading, construction of the challenged statute and pleadings, and, sometimes, proof. Rescue Army v. Municipal Court, supra; Watson v. Buck, 313 U.S. 387, 402. Borden's Company v. Baldwin, 293 U.S. 194, 204, 210, and concurring opinion at 213. But no refinement or clarification of issues which we can reasonably anticipate would bring into better focus the question of whether the contested section is written so vaguely and indefinitely that one whose conduct it affected could only guess what it meant. Consequently, since this phase of the appeal raises a question of...

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