384 U.S. 702 (1966), 594, Gojack v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 594
Citation:384 U.S. 702, 86 S.Ct. 1689, 16 L.Ed.2d 870
Party Name:Gojack v. United States
Case Date:June 13, 1966
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
FREE EXCERPT

Page 702

384 U.S. 702 (1966)

86 S.Ct. 1689, 16 L.Ed.2d 870

Gojack

v.

United States

No. 594

United States Supreme Court

June 13, 1966

Argued April 21, 1966

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA CIRCUIT

Syllabus

In an appearance before a subcommittee of the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1955, petitioner refused to answer certain questions concerning his affiliation with the Communist Party, the affiliation of others, and his connection with a "Peace Crusade." He did not invoke the Fifth Amendment, but challenged the jurisdiction of the Committee and the Subcommittee, the authorization of each and the constitutionality of the inquiry. He was indicted and convicted for contempt of Congress under 2 U.S.C. § 192 as a result of his refusals to answer. In Russell v. United States, 369 U.S. 749, this Court reversed, holding the indictment defective because it did not allege the "subject under inquiry." Petitioner was re-indicted, the indictment reciting that "the subject of these hearings was Communist party activities within the field of labor." Petitioner was again convicted and his conviction was affirmed by the Court of Appeals.

Held:

1. "A specific, properly authorized subject of inquiry is an essential element of the offense under § 192," and must be properly pleaded and proved. Pp. 706-712.

2. In this case, the House Committee never authorized the hearings on "Communist party activities within the field of labor" which is alleged to be the subject of inquiry. Pp. 706-712.

(a) The House Committee's own Rule I requires that a "major investigation" be specifically approved by the Committee. This is concededly a "major investigation." The record shows that it was never authorized or approved by the Committee. "When a committee rule relates to a matter of such importance, it must be strictly observed." Yellin v. United States, 374 U.S. 109. Pp. 706-709.

(b) The Committee's failure to authorize the investigation cannot be cured by an "inference" of Committee approval. Pp. 709-711.

3. Additionally, the subcommittee before which petitioner testified was not properly empowered to conduct the inquiry.

Absent

Page 703

proof of a clear delegation to the subcommittee of authority to conduct an inquiry into a designated subject, the subcommittee was without authority which can be vindicated by criminal sanctions under § 192. . . .

Hence, even if the Committee itself had properly approved the making of the investigation, this prosecution would fail because the subcommittee was not properly empowered.

The legislative history of § 192 makes plain that a clear chain of authority from the House to the questioning body is an essential element of the offense. If the contempt occurs before a subcommittee, the line of authority from the House to the Committee and then to the subcommittee must plainly and explicitly appear, and it must appear in terms of a delegation with respect to a particular, specific subject matter.

Pp. 713-717.

121 U.S.App.D.C. 126, 348 F.2d 355, reversed.

FORTAS, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE FORTAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case is a sequel to this Court's decision in Russell v. United States, 369 U.S. 749, and companion cases. One of those cases related to the same person who is petitioner here, and to the same events.

Petitioner appeared before a Subcommittee of the House Committee on Un-American Activities on February 28 and March 1, 1955. He answered certain questions, but refused to answer others concerning his affiliation with the Communist Party, the affiliation of others, and his connection with a "Peace Crusade." He had challenged the jurisdiction of the Committee and the Subcommittee, the authorization of each, and the constitutionality of the inquiry in general and with specific reference

Page 704

to the questions which he declined to answer.1 He did not and does not invoke the Fifth Amendment.

He was indicted for contempt of Congress under Rev.Stat. § 102, as amended, 52 Stat. 942, 2 U.S.C. § 192 (1964 ed.)2 (hereafter, § 192) as a result of his refusals to answer. He was convicted. [86 S.Ct. 1692] In Russell v. United States, supra, this Court reversed, holding that the indictment was defective because it did not allege the "subject under inquiry." The Court noted that, under § 192, specification of the subject of the inquiry is fundamental to a charge of violating its provisions. Absent an allegation of the subject matter of the inquiry, this Court held, there is no way in which it can be determined whether the factual recitals of the indictment charged a crime under § 192 -- that is, a refusal to answer questions

Page 705

"pertinent to the inquiry," and within the legislative competence of Congress.3

Petitioner was thereafter reindicted. The deficiency in the first indictment was sought to be cured by a recital that "[t]he subject of these hearings was Communist Party activities within the field of labor. . . ." Petitioner was again convicted and given a general sentence of three months' imprisonment and a $200 fine. The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed per curiam. 121 U.S.App.D.C. 126, 348 F.2d 355 (1965). We granted certiorari. 382 U.S. 937. We reverse. It is now clear that the fault in these proceedings is more fundamental than the omission from the indictment of an allegation of the "subject of the inquiry" being conducted by the Subcommittee. The subject of the inquiry was never specified or authorized by the Committee, as required by its own rules, nor was there a lawful delegation of authority to the Subcommittee to conduct the investigation.

Petitioner here urges that we reconsider this Court's decision in Barenblatt v. United States, 360 U.S. 109. In Barenblatt, this Court upheld the authority of the

Page 706

Committee to investigate Communist infiltration into the field of education. In the circumstances of that case, the Court sustained the constitutionality of the investigation and of the Committee's inquiry into petitioner's alleged membership in the Communist Party. Since we decide the present case on other grounds, it is not necessary nor would it be appropriate to reach the constitutional question.

I

Rule I of the Rules of Procedure of the House Committee on Un-American Activities provides that "No major investigation shall be initiated without approval of a majority of the Committee." Rule XI, par. 26, of the Rules of the House of Representatives requires each Committee of the House to keep a record of all committee actions. There is no resolution, minute or record of the Committee authorizing the inquiry with which we are concerned.

The Solicitor General's brief in this Court states that:

Admittedly, there is no direct evidence that the Committee approved the investigation of Communist [86 S.Ct. 1693] activities in the field of labor of which the hearings at which petitioner was called to testify were a part.

A footnote to this statement concedes that "We do not dispute that this investigation was a `major' one and that approval by a majority of the Committee was therefore required."

The Government's only plea in avoidance of this obvious deficiency is that we should "infer" Committee approval of the inquiry at which petitioner was required to respond to questions, because it was part of the Committee's alleged "continuing investigation" of Communist activities in the labor field.4 But this is clearly impermissible.

Page 707

We are not here dealing with the justification for an investigation by a committee of the Congress as a matter of congressional administration. That is a legislative matter. We are here concerned with a criminal proceeding. It is clear as a matter of law that the usual standards of the criminal law must be observed, including proper allegation and proof of all the essential elements of the offense.5 Moreover, the Congress, in enacting § 192, specifically indicated that it relied upon the courts to apply the exacting standards of criminal jurisprudence to charges of contempt of Congress in order to assure that the congressional investigative power, when enforced by penal sanctions, would not be abused.6

Page 708

It can hardly be disputed that a specific, properly...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP