396 U.S. 64 (1969), 35, Bryson v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 35
Citation:396 U.S. 64, 90 S.Ct. 355, 24 L.Ed.2d 264
Party Name:Bryson v. United States
Case Date:December 08, 1969
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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396 U.S. 64 (1969)

90 S.Ct. 355, 24 L.Ed.2d 264

Bryson

v.

United States

No. 35

United States Supreme Court

Dec. 8, 1969

Argued October 14, 1969

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Petitioner challenges his 1955 conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 1001 for falsely and fraudulently denying affiliation with the Communist Party in an affidavit he filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), pursuant to § 9(h) of the National Labor Relations Act. Section 9(h), later repealed, provided that a union could not draw upon the jurisdiction of the NLRB unless each union officer filed with the NLRB an affidavit stating "that he is not a member of the Communist Party or affiliated with such party. . . ." The District Court set aside the conviction. It distinguished Dennis v. United States, 384 U.S. 855; decided that § 9(h), which had been upheld in American Communications Assn. v. Douds, 339 U.S. 382, could no longer be thought constitutionally valid, particularly in light of United States v. Brown, 381 U.S. 437, and concluded that the Government had no right to ask the questions which petitioner answered falsely in his affidavit. The Court of Appeals reversed, since it found "no significant differences" between this case and Dennis, supra, and therefore thought it unnecessary to consider the constitutionality of § 9(h).

Held:

1. The constitutionality of § 9(h) is legally irrelevant to the validity of petitioner's conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 1001, which punishes the making of fraudulent statements to the Government, Dennis, supra, because none of the elements of proof for petitioner's conviction under § 1001 has been shown to depend on the validity of § 9(h). Pp. 68-72.

(a) The statutory term "affiliated," which petitioner claims is vague and overbroad and which he suggests he misunderstood, was narrowly defined by the trial court in an instruction later explicitly approved by this Court, and the jury's verdict reflects a determination that petitioner's false statement was knowingly and deliberately made. Pp. 69-70.

(b) Petitioner's false statement was made in a "matter within the jurisdiction" of the NLRB, as the NLRB received the affidavit pursuant to explicit statutory authority, which, only a short time before, had been upheld as constitutional in Douds, supra. Pp. 70-71.

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2. Dennis, supra, negates any general principle that a citizen has a privilege to answer fraudulently a question that the Government should not have asked. P. 72.

3. This case is not distinguishable from Dennis, supra, which is followed here. Pp. 72-73.

403 F.2d 340, affirmed.

HARLAN, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE HARLAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner asks this Court to set aside his 1955 jury conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 10011 for having falsely and fraudulently denied affiliation with the Communist Party in an affidavit he had filed with the National Labor Relations Board pursuant to § 9(h) of the National [90 S.Ct. 357] Labor Relations Act, as amended by the Taft-Hartley Act.2 This collateral proceeding was

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brought in the District Court for the Northern District of California in 1967, some 10 years after his original conviction was upheld over a variety of challenges on direct review.3 The District Court distinguished Dennis v. United States, 384 U.S. 855 (1966), and decided that § 9(h), which had been upheld in American Communications Assn. v. Douds, 339 U.S. 382 (1950), could no longer be thought constitutionally valid, particularly in light of United States v. Brown, 381 U.S. 437 (1965). Having concluded that the Government had no right to ask the questions which petitioner answered falsely in his affidavit, the District Court ruled that petitioner's conviction under § 1001 should be "without effect." It therefore set aside petitioner's conviction and discharged his parole (unreported opinion).4

On the Government's appeal, the Ninth Circuit reversed because it found "no significant differences" between this case and Dennis, and it therefore thought it unnecessary to consider the constitutionality of § 9(h). 403 F.2d 340 (1968). We granted certiorari, 393 U.S. 1079 (1969), and we now affirm.

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I

Petitioner bottoms his claim to relief on asserted constitutional deficiencies of § 9(h) of the National Labor Relations Act, enacted by Congress in 1947 out of concern that Communist Party influence on union officers created the risk of "political strikes," see American Communications Assn. v. Douds, 339 U.S. at 387-389. Under § 9(h), a union could participate in representation proceedings conducted by the NLRB or utilize the Board's machinery to protest employer unfair labor practices only if each of the union's officers had filed a "non-Communist" affidavit. See n. 2, supra. Petitioner filed such an affidavit in 1951, and his subsequent conviction under § 1001 was based on a jury's determination that petitioner had knowingly and willfully lied in his affidavit by denying affiliation with the Communist Party.5 About one year before petitioner filed the false affidavit, this Court had upheld § 9(h) after considering a variety of asserted constitutional deficiencies, American Communications Assn. v. Douds, supra. However, in 1959, Congress replaced § 9(h) with a provision that simply made [90 S.Ct. 358] it a crime for one who was or had recently been a Communist Party member to be a union officer,6 and this successor statute was subsequently held unconstitutional as a bill of attainder, United States v. Brown, supra. Relying primarily on Brown, petitioner argues that § 9(h) was also a bill of attainder, prohibited by Art. I, § 9, cl. 3, of the Constitution. Petitioner also argues that the statute abridged First Amendment rights of speech, assembly, and association, and was so vague as

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to offend the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. We do not decide whether § 9(h) -- now repealed for over 10 years -- would today pass constitutional muster, and whether Douds would be reaffirmed. Guided by Dennis v. United States, supra, we hold that the question of whether § 9(h) was constitutional or not is legally irrelevant to the validity of petitioner's conviction under § 1001, the general criminal provision punishing the making of fraudulent statements to the Government.

II

In Dennis v. United States, 384 U.S. 855 (1966), the petitioners had been convicted of a conspiracy to obtain fraudulently the services of the National Labor Relations Board by filing false affidavits in purported satisfaction of the requirements of § 9(h). Those petitioners, like the petitioner here, asked the Court to reverse Douds and hold § 9(h) invalid. Deciding that "the claimed invalidity of § 9(h) would be no defense to the crime of conspiracy charged in [the] indictment," the Court refused in Dennis to "reconsider Douds." 384 U.S. at 867. The Court, drawing on United States v. Kapp, 302 U.S. 214 (1937), and Kay v. United States, 303 U.S. 1 (1938) , stated:

The governing principle is that a claim of unconstitutionality will not be heard to excuse a voluntary, deliberate and calculated course of fraud and deceit. One who elects such a course as a means of self-help may not escape the consequences by urging that his conduct be excused because the statute which...

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