354 U.S. 234 (1957), 175, Sweezy v. New Hampshire

Docket Nº:No. 175
Citation:354 U.S. 234, 77 S.Ct. 1203, 1 L.Ed.2d 1311
Party Name:Sweezy v. New Hampshire
Case Date:June 17, 1957
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 234

354 U.S. 234 (1957)

77 S.Ct. 1203, 1 L.Ed.2d 1311



New Hampshire

No. 175

United States Supreme Court

June 17, 1957

Argued March 5, 1957



1. This case was brought here on appeal under 28 U.S.C. §1257(2); but the appellant has failed to meet his burden of showing that jurisdiction by appeal was properly invoked. Held: The appeal is dismissed. Treating the papers as a petition for certiorari under 28 U.S.C. § 2103, certiorari is granted. Pp. 235-236.

2. In an investigation conducted by a State Attorney General, acting on behalf of the State Legislature under a broad resolution directing him to determine whether there were "subversive persons" in the State and to recommend further legislation on that subject, appellant answered most questions asked him, including whether he was a Communist; but he refused to answer questions related to (1) the contents of a lecture he had delivered at the State University, and (2) his knowledge of the Progressive Party of the State and its members. He did not plead his privilege against self-incrimination, but based his refusal to answer such questions on the grounds that they were not pertinent to the inquiry and violated his rights under the First Amendment. Persisting in his refusal when haled into a State Court and directed to answer, he was adjudged guilty of contempt. This judgment was affirmed by the State Supreme Court, which construed the term "subversive persons" broadly enough to include persons engaged in conduct only remotely related to actual subversion and done completely apart from any conscious intent to be a part of such activity. It also held that the need of the Legislature to be informed on the subject of self-preservation of government outweighed the deprivation of constitutional rights that occurred in the process. Held: on the record in this case, appellant's rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment were violated, and the judgment is reversed. Pp. 235-267.

100 N.H. 103,121 A.2d 783, reversed.

Page 235

For the opinions of the Justices constituting the majority of the Court, see:


Opinion of MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER, joined by MR. JUSTICE HARLAN, concurring in the result, post, p. 255.

For dissenting opinion of MR. JUSTICE CLARK, joined by MR. JUSTICE BURTON, see post, p. 267.

WARREN, J., lead opinion

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WARREN announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which MR. JUSTICE BLACK, MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS, and MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN join.

This case, like Watkins v. United States, 354 U.S. 178, brings before us a question concerning the constitutional limits of legislative inquiry. The investigation here was conducted under the aegis of a state legislature, rather than a House of Congress. This places the controversy in a slightly different setting from that in Watkins. The ultimate question here is whether the investigation deprived Sweezy of due process of law under the Fourteenth Amendment. For the reasons to be set out in this opinion, we conclude that the record in this case does not sustain the power of the State to compel the disclosures that the witness refused to make.

This case was brought here as an appeal under 28 U.S.C. § 1257(2). Jurisdiction was alleged to rest upon contentions, rejected by the state courts, that a statute

Page 236

of New Hampshire is repugnant to the Constitution of the United States. We postponed a decision on the question of jurisdiction until consideration of the merits. 352 U.S. 812. The parties neither briefed nor argued the jurisdictional question. The appellant has thus failed to meet his burden of showing that jurisdiction by appeal was properly invoked. The appeal is therefore dismissed. Treating the appeal papers as a petition for writ of certiorari, under 28 U.S.C. § 2103, the petition is granted. Cf. Union National Bank v. Lamb, 337 U.S. 38, 39-40.

The investigation in which petitioner was summoned to testify had its origins in a statute passed by the New Hampshire legislature in 1951.1 It was a comprehensive scheme of regulation of subversive activities. There was a section defining criminal conduct in the nature of sedition. "Subversive organizations" were declared unlawful and ordered dissolved. "Subversive persons" were made ineligible for employment by the state government. Included in the disability were those employed as teachers or in other capacities by any public educational institution. A loyalty program was instituted to eliminate "subversive persons" among government personnel. All present employees, as well as candidates for elective office in the future, were required to make sworn statements that they were not "subversive persons."

In 1953, the legislature adopted a "Joint Resolution Relating to the Investigation of Subversive Activities."2 It was resolved:

That the attorney general is hereby authorized and directed to make full and complete investigation with respect to violations of the subversive activities act of 1951 and to determine whether subversive

Page 237

persons as defined in said act are presently located within this state. The attorney general is authorized to act upon his own motion and upon such information as in his judgment may be reasonable or reliable. . . .

* * * *

The attorney general is directed to proceed with criminal prosecutions under the subversive activities act whenever evidence presented to him in the course of the investigation indicates violations thereof, and he shall report to the 1955 session on the first day of its regular [77 S.Ct. 1205] session the results of this investigation, together with his recommendations, if any, for necessary legislation.3

Under state law, this was construed to constitute the Attorney General as a one-man legislative committee.4

Page 238

He was given the authority to delegate any part of the investigation to any member of his staff. The legislature conferred upon the Attorney General the further authority to subpoena witnesses or documents. He did not have power to hold witnesses in contempt, however. In the event that coercive or punitive sanctions were needed, the Attorney General could invoke the aid of a State Superior Court which could find recalcitrant witnesses in contempt of court.5

Petitioner was summoned to appear before the Attorney General on two separate occasions. On January 5, 1954, petitioner testified at length upon his past conduct and associations. He denied that he had ever been a member of the Communist Party or that he had ever been part of any program to overthrow the government by force or violence. The interrogation ranged over many matters, from petitioner's World War II military service with the Office of Strategic Services to his sponsorship, in 1949, of the Scientific and Cultural Conference for World Peace, at which he spoke.

During the course of the inquiry, petitioner declined to answer several questions. His reasons for doing so were given in a statement he read to the Committee at

Page 239

the outset of the hearing.6 He declared he would not answer those questions which were not pertinent to [77 S.Ct. 1206] the

Page 240

subject under inquiry as well as those which transgress the limitations of the First Amendment. In keeping with

Page 241

this stand, he refused to disclose his knowledge of the Progressive Party in New Hampshire or of persons with

Page 242

whom he was acquainted in that organization.7 No action was taken by the Attorney General to compel answers to these questions.

The Attorney General again summoned petitioner to testify on June 3, 1954. There was more interrogation about the witness' prior contacts with Communists. The Attorney General lays great stress upon an article which petitioner had co-authored. It deplored the use of violence by the United States [77 S.Ct. 1208] and other capitalist countries in attempting to preserve a social order which the writers thought must inevitably fall. This resistance, the article

Page 243

continued, will be met by violence from the oncoming socialism, violence which is to be less condemned morally than that of capitalism since its purpose is to create a "truly human society." Petitioner affirmed that he styled himself a "classical Marxist" and a "socialist" and that the article expressed his continuing opinion.

Again, at the second hearing, the Attorney General asked, and petitioner refused to answer, questions concerning the Progressive Party, and its predecessor, the Progressive Citizens of America. Those were:

Was she, Nancy Sweezy, your wife, active in the formation of the Progressive Citizens of America?

Was Nancy Sweezy then working with individuals who were then members of the Communist Party?

Was Charles Beebe active in forming the Progressive Citizens of America?

Was Charles Beebe active in the Progressive Party in New Hampshire?

Did he work with your present wife -- Did Charles Beebe work with your present wife in 1947?

Did it (a meeting at the home of Abraham Walenko in Weare during 1948) have anything to do with the Progressive Party?

The Attorney General also turned to a subject which had not yet occurred at the time of the first hearing. On March 22, 1954, petitioner had delivered a lecture to a class of 100 students in the humanities course at the University of New Hampshire. This talk was given at the invitation of the faculty teaching that course. Petitioner had addressed the class upon such invitations in the two preceding years as well. He declined to answer the following questions:

What was the subject of your lecture?

Didn't you tell the class at the University of New Hampshire on Monday, March 22, 1954, that Socialism was inevitable in this country?

Page 244

Did you advocate...

To continue reading