395 U.S. 411 (1969), 548, Jenkins v. McKeithen

Docket Nº:No. 548
Citation:395 U.S. 411, 89 S.Ct. 1843, 23 L.Ed.2d 404
Party Name:Jenkins v. McKeithen
Case Date:June 09, 1969
Court:United States Supreme Court

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395 U.S. 411 (1969)

89 S.Ct. 1843, 23 L.Ed.2d 404




No. 548

United States Supreme Court

June 9, 1969

Argued March 25, 1969




Appellant, a labor union member, filed this suit in the District Court for declaratory and injunctive relief challenging as violative of due process and equal protection the Louisiana statute that creates a body called the Labor-Management Commission of Inquiry for the purpose of investigating and finding facts relating to violations of state or federal criminal laws in the labor-management relations field. The Commission, appointed by the Governor, is to hold public hearings concerning such alleged violations, and its powers include making rules, employing investigators, compelling the attendance of witnesses, and requiring the production of records. The Commission is required to make public findings whether there is probable cause to believe that criminal violations have occurred, to report such findings of probable cause to law enforcement authorities, and to request the Governor to refer matters to the State Attorney General for prosecutive action. There is no provision for submission of findings for the purpose of legislative action. Witnesses have the right to counsel "subject to . . . reasonable limitations" imposed by the Commission, but the right to cross-examine other witnesses is limited, neither a witness nor a private party having the right to call anyone to testify before the Commission at public hearings. Appellant charged that the Commission is an "executive trial agency" "aimed at conducting public trials concerning criminal law violations"; that its function is publicly to condemn; that the appellees (the Governor and six Commissioners) have singled out appellant and members of his union "as a special class of persons for repressive and willfully punitive action," procuring false statements of criminal activities to initiate baseless criminal proceedings against appellant, coercing public officials into prosecuting false criminal charges against him, and intimidating judges considering legal controversies involving him, and that the Commission and those acting in concert with it will continue to take such actions against appellant. Appellees moved to dismiss, alleging that appellant lacked standing to make his constitutional challenge, since he did not claim that he was called or expected to be called to appear before the Commission

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or would be "injured" by the operation of the statute, and that the complaint failed to state a cause of action. A three-judge District Court dismissed the complaint, holding that Hannah v. Larche, 363 U.S. 420, foreclosed relief on the constitutional issue, and that the other allegations of the complaint raised merely potential defenses to assertedly pending criminal charges.

Held: The judgment is reversed and remanded. Pp. 413-433.

286 F.Supp. 537, reversed and remanded.


1. Appellant has standing to challenge the statute's constitutionality. Pp. 421-425.

(a) The allegations of the complaint indicate that the Commission and those acting in concert with it have carried out a series of acts designed to injure appellant in several ways, and it is thus clear that appellant has sufficient adversary interest to insure proper presentation of issues facing the court. Pp. 423-424.

(b) Appellant has sufficiently alleged a nexus between the official action challenged and his legally protected interest, since he has claimed that the very purpose of the Commission is to find him and persons like him guilty of violating criminal laws without trial or procedural safeguards, and to publicize those findings, and thus the Commission's alleged actions will substantially affect him. P. 424.

(c) In the circumstances of this case, where appellant claims a concerted attempt to brand him a criminal without trial, and has claimed that he has vainly tried to secure prosecution of charges against him, his opportunity to defend criminal prosecution is not sufficient to deprive him of standing to challenge the statute. Pp. 424-425.

2. Appellant has alleged a cause of action which may make declaratory and injunctive relief appropriate. and is entitled to go to trial on his allegations concerning the Commission and that its procedures violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 425-431.

(a) Hannah v. Larch, supra, is reaffirmed. The functions of the Civil Rights Commission, whose procedures were upheld in that case, were primarily investigatory and for legislative and executive purposes, whereas the Commission in this case is limited to criminal law violations, and allegedly exercises a role very much akin to making an official adjudication of criminal culpability,

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performing functions that are primarily accusatory, and have no legislative purpose. Pp. 425-428.

(b) Due process requires that the Commission here, which allegedly makes actual findings of guilt, afford a person being investigated the right to confront and cross-examine witnesses against him. Pp. 428-429.

(c) The Commission's alleged procedures drastically limiting the right of a person being investigated to present evidence on his own behalf do not comport with due process. P. 429.

(d) The extent to which the Commission's procedures in these and other respects alleged by appellant may violate the Due Process Clause should be decided in the first instance by the District Court in light of the evidence adduced at trial. Pp. 429-430.

3. Whether appellant's allegations that false criminal charges were filed against him involve actions taken under the statute, and should thus be taken into account by the District Court in determining the statute's constitutionality, or are merely potential defenses, as the District Court held, to assertedly pending criminal charges should be left open for reconsideration on remand. Pp. 431-432.

MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS concurs in the result for the reasons stated in his dissent in Hannah v. Larche, supra, at 493-508. P. 432.

MR. JUSTICE BLACK adhered to MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS' dissent in Hannah v. Larche, supra, and, while concurring in much of the prevailing opinion in this case, concluded that the statute involved here, like the statute involved in Hannah, constitutes a scheme for a nonjudicial tribunal to convict people without any of the safeguards of the Bill of Rights, and denies due process of law. Pp. 432-433.

MARSHALL, J., lead opinion

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

This case involves the constitutionality of a 1967 Louisiana statute, known as Act No. 2, which creates

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a body called the Labor-Management Commission of Inquiry. La.Rev.Stat.Ann. §§ 23:880.1-23:880.18 (Supp. 1969). The stated purpose of this Commission is

the investigation and findings of facts relating to violations or possible violations of criminal laws of the state of Louisiana or of the United States arising out of or in connection with matters in the field of labor-management relations. . . .

Act No. 2, Preamble, [1967 Extra.Sess.] La. Acts 3. Appellant, a member of a labor union, filed this suit in the District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana challenging the constitutionality of Act No. 2 and of certain actions taken by state officials in the administration of the Act and otherwise. He sought both declaratory and injunctive relief. A three-judge court was convened, and that court ultimately granted appellees' motion to dismiss the complaint. Jenkins v. McKeithen, 286 F.Supp. 537 (D.C.E.D.La.1968). We noted probable jurisdiction of an appeal brought under 28 U.S.C. § 1253.1 We reverse. Since the case was decided on a motion to dismiss, a rather detailed examination of the structure of the Act and of the allegations of the complaint is necessary.


The impetus for the formation of the Commission was stated in the preamble of the Act. [1967 Extra.Sess.] La.Acts 2. It cited "unprecedented conditions" in the labor relations of the construction industry, and it particularly noted certain

allegations and accusations of violations of the state and federal criminal laws which should be thoroughly investigated in the public interest. . . .

Id. at 3. The additional investigative facilities of the Commission were thought necessary to

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supplement and assist the efforts and activities of the several district attorneys, grand juries and other law enforcement officials and agencies. . . .


The Commission is comprised of nine members appointed by the Governor. La.Rev.Stat.Ann. § 23:880.1 (Supp. 1969). It is empowered to act only upon referral by the Governor when, in his opinion, there is substantial indication that there are or may be "widespread or continuing violations of existing criminal laws" affecting labor-management relations. La.Rev.Stat.Ann. § 23:880.5 (Supp. 1969). Upon referral by the Governor, the Commission is to proceed by public hearing to ascertain the facts pertaining to the alleged violations. La.Rev.Stat.Ann. § 23:880.6 (Supp. 1969). In order to carry out this function, the Commission has the power to make appropriate rules and regulations, to employ attorneys, investigators, and other staff members, to compel the attendance of witnesses, to examine them under oath, and to require the production of books, records, and other evidence. La.Rev.Stat.Ann. § 23:880.8 (Supp. 1969). It can enforce its orders by petition to the state...

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