360 U.S. 109 (1959), 35, Barenblatt v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 35
Citation:360 U.S. 109, 79 S.Ct. 1081, 3 L.Ed.2d 1115
Party Name:Barenblatt v. United States
Case Date:June 08, 1959
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 109

360 U.S. 109 (1959)

79 S.Ct. 1081, 3 L.Ed.2d 1115



United States

No. 35

United States Supreme Court

June 8, 1959

Argued November 18, 1958




Summoned to testify before a Subcommittee of the House of Representatives Committee on Un-American Activities, which was investigating alleged Communist infiltration into the field of education, petitioner, formerly a graduate student and teaching fellow at the University of Michigan, refused to answer questions as to whether he was then or had ever been a member of the Communist Party. He disclaimed reliance upon the privilege against self-incrimination, but objected generally to the right of the Subcommittee to inquire into his "political" and "religious" beliefs or any "other personal or private affairs" or "associational activities" upon grounds set forth in a previously prepared memorandum, which was based on the First, Ninth, and Tenth Amendments, the prohibition against bills of attainder and the doctrine of separation of powers. For such refusal, he was convicted of a violation of 2 U.S.C. § 192, which makes it a misdemeanor for any person summoned as a witness by either House of Congress or a committee thereof to refuse to answer any question pertinent to the question under inquiry. He was fined and sentenced to imprisonment for six months.

Held: Petitioner's conviction is sustained. Pp. 111-134.

1. In the light of the Committee's history and the repeated extensions of its life, as well as the successive appropriations by the House of Representatives for the conduct of its activities, its legislative authority and that of the Subcommittee to conduct the inquiry under consideration here is unassailable, and House Rule XI, 83d Congress, which defines the Committee's authority, cannot be said to be constitutionally infirm on the score of vagueness. Watkins v. United States, 354 U.S. 178, distinguished. Pp. 116-123.

(a) Rule XI has a "persuasive gloss of legislative history" which shows beyond doubt that, in pursuance of its legislative concerns in the domain of "national security," the House of Representatives has clothed the Committee with pervasive authority to investigate Communist activities in this country. Pp. 117-121.

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(b) In the light of the legislative history, Rule XI cannot be construed so as to exclude the field of education from the Committee's compulsory authority. Pp. 121-123.

2. The record in this case refutes petitioner's contention that he was not adequately apprised of the pertinency of the Subcommittee's questions to the subject matter of the inquiry. Watkins v. United States, supra, distinguished. Pp. 123-125.

3. On the record in this case, the balance between the individual and the governmental interests here at stake must be struck in favor of the latter, and therefore the provisions of the First Amendment were not transgressed by the Subcommittee's inquiry into petitioner's past or present membership in the Communist Party. Pp. 125-134.

(a) Where First Amendment rights are asserted to bar governmental interrogation, resolution of the issue always involves a balancing by the courts of the competing private and public interests at stake in the particular circumstances shown. Pp. 126-127.

(b) The investigation here involved was related to a valid legislative purpose, since Congress has wide power to legislate in the field of Communist activity in this Country and to conduct appropriate investigations in aid thereof. Pp. 127-129.

(c) Investigatory power in this domain is not to be denied Congress solely because the field of education is involved, and the record in this case does not indicate any attempt by the Committee to inquire into the content of academic lectures or discussions, but only to investigate the extent to which the Communist Party had succeeded in infiltrating into our educational institutions persons and groups committed to furthering the Party's alleged objective of violent overthrow of the Government. Sweezy v. New Hampshire, 354 U.S. 234, distinguished. Pp. 129-132.

(d) On the record in this case, it cannot be said that the true objective of the Committee and of the Congress was purely "exposure," rather than furtherance of a valid legislative purpose. Pp. 132-133.

(e) The record is barren of other factors which, in themselves, might lead to the conclusion that the individual interests at stake were not subordinate to those of the Government. P. 134.

102 U.S.App.D.C. 217, 252 F.2d 129, affirmed.

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HARLAN, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE HARLAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

Once more the Court is required to resolve the conflicting constitutional claims of congressional power, and of an individual's right to resist its exercise. The congressional power in question concerns the internal process of Congress in moving within its legislative domain; it involves the utilization of its committees to secure "testimony needed to enable it efficiently to exercise a legislative function belonging to it under the Constitution." McGrain v. Daugherty, 273 U.S. 135, 160. The power of inquiry has been employed by Congress throughout our history, over the whole range of the national interests concerning which Congress might legislate or decide upon due investigation not to legislate; it has similarly been utilized in determining what to appropriate from the national purse, or whether to appropriate. The scope of the power of inquiry, in short, is as penetrating and far-reaching as the potential power to enact and appropriate under the Constitution.

Broad as it is, the power is not, however, without limitations. Since Congress may only investigate into those areas in which it may potentially legislate or appropriate,

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it cannot inquire into matters which are within the exclusive province of one of the other branches of the Government. Lacking the judicial power given to the Judiciary, it cannot inquire into matters that are exclusively the concern of the Judiciary. Neither can it supplant the Executive in what exclusively belongs to the Executive. And the Congress, in common with all branches of the Government, must exercise its powers subject to the limitations placed by the Constitution on governmental action, more particularly, in the context of this case, the relevant limitations of the Bill of Rights.

The congressional power of inquiry, its range and scope, and an individual's duty in relation to it, must be viewed in proper perspective. McGrain v. Daugherty, supra; Landis, Constitutional Limitations on the Congressional Power of Investigation, 40 Harv.L.Rev. 153, 214; Black, Inside a Senate Investigation, 172 Harpers Monthly 275 (February 1936). The power and the right of resistance to it are to be judged in the concrete, not on the basis of abstractions. In the present case, congressional efforts to learn the extent of a nationwide, indeed worldwide, problem have brought one of its investigating committees into the field of education. Of course, broadly viewed, inquiries cannot be made into the teaching that is pursued in any of our educational institutions. When academic teaching -- freedom and its corollary, learning -- freedom, so essential to the wellbeing of the Nation, are claimed, this Court will always be on the alert against intrusion by Congress into this constitutionally protected domain. But this does not mean that the Congress is precluded from interrogating a witness merely because he is a teacher. An educational institution is not a constitutional sanctuary from inquiry into matters that may otherwise be within the constitutional legislative domain merely for the reason that inquiry is made of someone within its walls.

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In the setting of this framework of constitutional history, practice, and legal precedents, we turn to the particularities of this case.

We here review petitioner's conviction under 2 U.S.C. § 1921 for contempt of Congress, arising from [79 S.Ct. 1086] his refusal to answer certain questions put to him by a Subcommittee of the House Committee on Un-American Activities during the course of an inquiry concerning alleged Communist infiltration into the field of education.

The case is before us for the second time. Petitioner's conviction was originally affirmed in 1957 by a unanimous panel of the Court of Appeals, 100 U.S.App.D.C. 13, 240 F.2d 875. This Court granted certiorari, 354 U.S. 930, vacated the Judgment of the Court of Appeals, and remanded the case to that court for further consideration in light of Watkins v. United States, 354 U.S. 178, which had reversed a contempt of Congress conviction and which was decided after the Court of Appeals' decision here had issued. Thereafter, the Court of Appeals, sitting en banc, reaffirmed the conviction by a divided court. 102 U.S.App.D.C. 217, 252 F.2d 129. We again granted certiorari, 356 U.S. 929, to consider petitioner's statutory and constitutional challenges to his conviction, and particularly his claim that the Judgment below cannot stand under our decision in the Watkins case.

Pursuant to a subpoena, and accompanied by counsel, petitioner, on June 28, 1954, appeared as a witness before

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this congressional Subcommittee. After answering a few preliminary questions and testifying that he had been a graduate student and teaching fellow at the University of Michigan from 1947 to 1950 and an instructor in psychology at Vassar College from 1950 to shortly before his appearance before the Subcommittee, petitioner objected generally to the right of the Subcommittee to inquire into his "political" and "religious" beliefs or any "other personal and private affairs" or "associational activities," upon grounds set forth in a previously prepared memorandum which he was allowed to file with the Subcommittee.2 Thereafter,...

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