363 U.S. 420 (1960), 549, Hannah v. Larche

Docket Nº:No. 549
Citation:363 U.S. 420, 80 S.Ct. 1502, 4 L.Ed.2d 1307
Party Name:Hannah v. Larche
Case Date:June 20, 1960
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 420

363 U.S. 420 (1960)

80 S.Ct. 1502, 4 L.Ed.2d 1307

Hannah

v.

Larche

No. 549

United States Supreme Court

June 20, 1960

Argued January 18-19, 1960

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA

Syllabus

The Civil Rights Act of 1957 created in the Executive Branch of the Government a Commission on Civil Rights to investigate written, sworn allegations that persons have been discriminatorily deprived of their right to vote on account of their color, race, religion, or national origin, to study and collect information "concerning legal developments constituting a denial of equal protection of the laws," and to report to the President and Congress. The Commission is authorized to subpoena witnesses and documents and to conduct hearings. The Act prescribes certain rules of procedure; but nothing in the Act requires the Commission to afford persons accused of discrimination the right to be apprised as to the specific charges against them or as to the identity of their accusers, or the right to confront and cross-examine witnesses appearing at Commission hearings; and the Commission prescribed supplementary rules of procedure which deny such rights in hearings conducted by it.

Held:

1. In the light of the legislative history of the Act, the Commission was authorized by Congress to adopt such rules of procedure. Pp. 430-439.

2. Since the Commission makes no adjudications, but acts solely as an investigative and factfinding agency, these rules of procedure do not violate the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Morgan v. United States, 304 U.S. 1; Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee v. McGrath, 341 U.S. 123; Greene v. McElroy, 360 U.S. 474, distinguished. Pp. 440-452.

3. Such rules of procedure do not violate the Sixth Amendment, since that Amendment is specifically limited to "criminal prosecutions," and the proceedings of the Commission do not fall in that category. P. 440 n. 16.

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4. The Civil Rights Act of 1957 is appropriate legislation under the Fifteenth Amendment. P. 452.

5. Section 7 of the Administrative Procedure Act is not applicable to hearings conducted by this Commission. Pp. 452-453.

177 F.Supp. 816 reversed.

WARREN, J., lead opinion

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

These cases involve the validity of certain Rules of Procedure adopted by the Commission on Civil Rights, which was established by Congress in 1957.1 Civil Rights Act of 1957, 71 Stat. 634, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1975-1975e. They arise out of the Commission's investigation of alleged Negro voting deprivations in the State of Louisiana. The appellees in No. 549 are registrars of voters in the State of Louisiana, and the respondents in No. 550 are private citizens of Louisiana.2 After having been summoned to

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appear before a hearing which the Commission proposed to conduct in Shreveport, Louisiana, these registrars and private citizens requested the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana to enjoin the Commission from holding its anticipated hearing. It was alleged, among other things, that the Commission's Rules of Procedure governing the conduct of its investigations were unconstitutional. The specific rules challenged are those which provide that the identity of persons submitting complaints to the Commission need not be disclosed, and that those summoned to testify before the Commission, including persons against whom complaints have been filed, may not cross-examine other witnesses called by the Commission. The District Court held that the Commission was not authorized to adopt the Rules of Procedure here in question, and therefore issued an injunction which prohibits the Commission from holding any hearings in the Western District of Louisiana as long as the challenged procedures remain in force. The Commission requested this Court to review the District Court's decision.3 We granted the Commission's motion to advance the [80 S.Ct. 1505] cases, and oral argument was accordingly scheduled on the jurisdiction on appeal in No. 549, on the petition for certiorari in No. 550, and on the merits of both cases.

Having heard oral argument as scheduled, we now take jurisdiction in No. 549 and grant certiorari in No.

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550. The specific questions which we must decide are (1) whether the Commission was authorized by Congress to adopt the Rules of Procedure challenged by the respondents, and (2) if so, whether those procedures violate the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.

A description of the events leading up to this litigation is necessary not only to place the legal questions in their proper factual context, but also to indicate the significance of the Commission's proposed Shreveport hearing. During the months prior to its decision to convene the hearing, the Commission had received some sixty-seven complaints from individual Negroes who alleged that they had been discriminatorily deprived of their right to vote. Based upon these complaints, and pursuant to its statutory mandate to "investigate allegations in writing under oath or affirmation that certain citizens of the United States are being deprived of their right to vote and have that vote counted by reason of their color, race, religion, or national origin,"4 the Commission began its investigation into the Louisiana voting situation by making several ex parte attempts to acquire information. Thus, in March, 1959, a member of the Commission's staff interviewed the Voting Registrars of Claiborne, Caddo, and Webster Parishes, but obtained little relevant information. During one of these interviews, the staff member is alleged to have informed Mrs. Lannie Linton, the Registrar of Claiborne Parish, that the Commission had on file four sworn statements charging her with depriving Negroes of their voting rights solely because of their race. Subsequent to this interview, Mr. W. M. Shaw, Mrs. Linton's personal attorney, wrote a letter to Mr. Gordon M. Tiffany, the Staff Director of the Commission, in which it was asserted that Mrs. Linton knew the sworn complaints lodged against

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her to be false. The letter also indicated that Mrs. Linton wished to prefer perjury charges against the affiants, and Mr. Shaw therefore demanded that the Commission forward to him copies of the affidavits so that a proper presentment could be made to the grand jury. On April 14, 1959, Mr. Tiffany replied to Mr. Shaw's letter and indicated that the Commission had denied the request for copies of the sworn affidavits. Mr. Shaw was also informed of the following official statement adopted by the Commission:

The Commission, from its first meeting forward, having considered all complaints submitted to it as confidential because such confidentiality is essential in carrying out the statutory duties of the Commission, the Staff Director is hereby instructed not to disclose the names of complainants or other information contained in complaints to anyone except members of the Commission and members of the staff assigned to process, study, or investigate such complaints.

A copy of Mr. Tiffany's letter was sent to Mr. Jack P. F. Gremillion, the Attorney General of Louisiana, who had previously informed the Commission that, under Louisiana law, the Attorney General is the legal adviser for all voting registrars in any hearing or investigation before a federal commission.

Another attempt to obtain information occurred on May 13, 1959, when Mr. [80 S.Ct. 1506] Tiffany, upon Commission authorization, sent a list of 315 written interrogatories to Mr. Gremillion. These interrogatories requested very detailed and specific information, and were to be answered by the voting registrars of nineteen Louisiana parishes. Although Mr. Gremillion and the Governor of Louisiana had previously assented to the idea of written interrogatories, on May 28, 1959, Mr. Gremillion sent a letter to

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Mr. Tiffany indicating that the voting registrars refused to answer the interrogatories. The reasons given for the refusal were that many of the questions seemed unrelated to the functions of voting registrars, that the questions were neither accompanied by specific complaints nor related to specific complaints, and that the time and research required to answer the questions placed an unreasonable burden upon the voting registrars.

In response to this refusal, on May 29, 1959, Mr. Tiffany sent a telegram to Mr. Gremillion informing the latter that the interrogatories were based upon specific allegations received by the Commission, and reaffirming the Commission's position that the identity of specific complainants would not be disclosed. Mr. Tiffany's letter contained a further request that the interrogatories be answered and sent to the Commission by June 5, 1959. On June 2, 1959, Mr. Gremillion wrote a letter to Mr. Tiffany reiterating the registrars' refusal, and again requesting that the names of complainants be disclosed.

Finally, as a result of this exchange of correspondence, and because the Commission's attempts to obtain information ex parte had been frustrated, the Commission, acting pursuant to Section 105(f) of the Civil Rights Act of 1957,5 decided to hold the Shreveport hearing commencing on July 13, 1959.

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Notice of the scheduled hearing was sent to Mr. Gremillion, and, between June 29 and July 6, subpoenas duces tecum were served on the respondents in No. 549, ordering them to appear at the hearing and to bring with them various voting and registration records within their custody and control. Subpoenas were also served upon the respondents in No. 550. These private citizens were apparently summoned to explain their activities with regard to alleged deprivations of Negro voting rights.6

On July 8, 1959, Mr. Tiffany wrote to Mr. Gremillion, enclosing copies of the Civil Rights Act and of the Commission's Rules of...

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