347 U.S. 612 (1954), 32, United States v. Harriss

Docket Nº:No. 32
Citation:347 U.S. 612, 74 S.Ct. 808, 98 L.Ed. 989
Party Name:United States v. Harriss
Case Date:June 07, 1954
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 612

347 U.S. 612 (1954)

74 S.Ct. 808, 98 L.Ed. 989

United States

v.

Harriss

No. 32

United States Supreme Court

June 7, 1954

Argued October 19, 1953

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

Syllabus

1. As here construed, §§ 305, 307 and 308 of the Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act are not too vague and indefinite to meet the requirements of due process. Pp. 617-624.

(a) If the general class of offenses to which a statute is directed is plainly within its terms, the statute will not be struck down as vague, even though marginal cases could be put where doubts might arise. P. 618.

(b) If this general class of offenses can be made constitutionally definite by a reasonable construction of the statute, the Court is under a duty to give the statute that construction. P. 618.

(c) Section 307 limits the coverage of the Act to those "persons" (except specified political committees) who solicit, collect, or receive contributions of money or other thing of value, and then only if one of the main purposes of either the persons or the contributions is to aid in the accomplishment of the aims set forth in § 307 (a) and (b). Pp. 618-620, 621-623.

(d) The purposes set forth in § 307(a) and (b) are here construed to refer only to "lobbying in its commonly accepted sense" -- to direct communication with members of Congress on pending or proposed legislation. Pp. 620-621.

(e) The "principal purpose" requirement was adopted merely to exclude from the scope of § 307 those contributions and persons having only an "incidental" purpose of influencing legislation. It does not exclude a contribution which in substantial part is to be used to influence legislation through direct communication with Congress or a person whose activities in substantial part are directed to influencing legislation through direct communication with Congress. Pp. 621-623.

(f) There are three prerequisites to coverage under §§ 307, 305, and 308: (1) the "person" must have solicited, collected or received contributions; (2) one of the main purposes of such "person," or one of the main purposes of such contributions, must have been to influence the passage or defeat of legislation

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by Congress; and (3) the intended method of accomplishing this purpose must have been through direct communication with members of Congress. P. 623.

2. As thus construed, §§ 305 and 308 do not violate the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment -- freedom to speak, publish and petition the Government. Pp. 625-626.

3. In this case, it is unnecessary for the Court to pass on the contention that the penalty provision in § 310(b) violates the First Amendment. Pp. 626-627.

(a) Section 310(b) has not yet been applied to appellees, and it will never be so applied if appellees are found innocent of the charges against them. P. 627.

(b) The elimination of § 310(b) would still leave a statute defining specific duties and providing a specific penalty for violation of any such duty, and the separability provision of the Act can be given effect if § 310(b) should ultimately be found invalid. P. 627.

109 F.Supp. 641, reversed.

WARREN, J., lead opinion

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WARREN delivered the opinion of the Court.

The appellees were charged by information with violation of the Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act, 60 Stat. 812, 839, 2 U.S.C. §§ 261-270. Relying on its previous

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decision in National Association of Manufacturers v. McGrath, 103 F.Supp. 510, vacated as moot, 344 U.S. 804, the District Court dismissed the information on the ground that the Act is unconstitutional. The case is here on direct appeal under the Criminal Appeals Act, 18 U.S.C. § 3731.

Seven counts of the information are laid under § 305, which requires designated reports to Congress from every person "receiving any contributions or expending any money" for the purpose of influencing the passage or defeat of any legislation by Congress.1 One such count charges the National Farm Committee, a Texas corporation,

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with failure to report the solicitation and receipt of contributions to influence the passage of legislation which would cause a rise in the price of agricultural commodities and commodity futures and the defeat of legislation which would cause a decline in those prices. The remaining six counts under § 305 charge defendants Moore and Harriss with failure to report expenditures having the same single purpose. Some of the alleged expenditures consist of the payment of compensation to others to communicate face-to-face with members of Congress, at public functions and committee hearings, concerning legislation affecting agricultural [74 S.Ct. 811] prices; the other alleged expenditures relate largely to the costs of a campaign to induce various interested groups and individuals to communicate by letter with members of Congress on such legislation.

The other two counts in the information are laid under § 308, which requires any person

who shall engage himself for pay or for any consideration for the purpose of attempting to influence the passage or defeat of any legislation

to register with Congress and to make specified disclosures.2 These two counts allege in considerable

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detail that defendants Moore and Linder were hired to express certain views to Congress as to agricultural prices or to cause others to do so, for the purpose of attempting to influence the passage of legislation which would cause a rise in the price of agricultural commodities and commodity futures and a defeat of legislation which would cause a decline in such prices; and that, pursuant to this undertaking, without having registered as required by

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§ 308, they arranged to have members of Congress contacted on behalf of these views, either directly by their own emissaries or through an artificially stimulated letter campaign.3

We are not concerned here with the sufficiency of the information as a criminal pleading. Our review under the Criminal Appeals Act is limited to a decision on the alleged "invalidity" of the statute on which the information is based.4 In making this decision, we judge the statute on its face. See United States v. Petrillo, 332 U.S. 1, 6, 12. The "invalidity" of the Lobbying Act is asserted [74 S.Ct. 812] on three grounds: (1) that §§ 305, 307, and 308 are too vague and indefinite to meet the requirements of due process; (2) that §§ 305 and 308 violate the First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the right to petition the Government; (3) that the penalty provision of § 310(b) violates the right of the people under the First Amendment to petition the Government.

I

The constitutional requirement of definiteness is violated by a criminal statute that fails to give a person of ordinary intelligence fair notice that his contemplated conduct is forbidden by the statute. The underlying principle is that no man shall be held criminally responsible for conduct which he could not reasonably understand to be proscribed.5

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On the other hand, if the general class of offenses to which the statute is directed is plainly within its terms, the statute will not be struck down as vague, even though marginal cases could be put where doubts might arise. United States v. Petrillo, 332 U.S. 1, 7. Cf. Jordan v. De George, 341 U.S. 223, 231. And if this general class of offenses can be made constitutionally definite by a reasonable construction of the statute, this Court is under a duty to give the statute that construction. This was the course adopted in Screws v. United States, 325 U.S. 91, upholding the definiteness of the Civil Rights Act.6

The same course is appropriate here. The key section of the Lobbying Act is § 307, entitled "Persons to Whom Applicable." Section 307 provides:

The provisions of this title shall apply to any person (except a political committee as defined in

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the Federal Corrupt Practices Act, and duly organized State or local committees of a political party), who by himself, or through any agent or employee or other persons in any manner whatsoever, directly or indirectly, solicits, collects, or receives money or any other thing of value to be used principally to aid, or the principal purpose of which person is to aid, in the accomplishment of any of the following purposes:

(a) The passage or defeat of any legislation by the Congress of the United States.

(b) To influence, directly or indirectly, the passage or defeat of any legislation by the Congress of the United States.

This section modifies the substantive provisions of the Act, including § 305 and § 308. In other words, unless a "person" falls within the category established by § 307, the disclosure requirements of § 305 and § 308 are inapplicable.7 Thus, coverage under the Act is limited to those persons (except for the specified political committees) who solicit, collect, or receive contributions of money or other thing of value, and then only if the principal purpose of either the persons or the contributions is to aid in the accomplishment of the aims set forth in § 307(a) and (b). In any event, the solicitation, collection, or receipt of money or other thing of value is a prerequisite to coverage under the Act.

The Government urges a much broader construction -- namely, that, under § 305, a person must report his expenditures to influence legislation even though he does not solicit, collect, or receive contributions as provided in

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§ 307.8 Such a construction, we believe, would do violence to the title and language of § 307, as well as its legislative history.9 If the construction urged by the Government is to become law, that is for Congress to accomplish by further legislation.

We now turn to the alleged vagueness of the purposes set forth in § 307(a) and (b). As in United States v. Rumely, 345 U.S. 41, 47, which involved the...

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