421 U.S. 491 (1975), 73-1923, Eastland v. United States Servicemen's Fund

Docket Nº:No. 73-1923
Citation:421 U.S. 491, 95 S.Ct. 1813, 44 L.Ed.2d 324
Party Name:Eastland v. United States Servicemen's Fund
Case Date:May 27, 1975
Court:United States Supreme Court

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421 U.S. 491 (1975)

95 S.Ct. 1813, 44 L.Ed.2d 324



United States Servicemen's Fund

No. 73-1923

United States Supreme Court

May 27, 1975

Argued January 22, 1975




The Senate Subcommittee on Internal Security, pursuant to its authority under a Senate resolution to make a complete study of the administration, operation, and enforcement of the Internal Security Act of 1950, began an inquiry into the various activities of respondent organization, to determine whether they were potentially harmful to the morale of United States Armed Forces. In connection with such inquiry, it issued a subpoena duces tecum to the bank where the organization had an account, ordering the bank to produce all records involving the account. The organization and two of its members then brought an action against the Chairman, Senator Members, Chief Counsel of the Subcommittee, and the bank to enjoin implementation of the subpoena on First Amendment grounds. The District Court dismissed the action. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that, although courts should hesitate to interfere with congressional actions even where First Amendment rights are implicated, such restraint should not preclude judicial review where no alternative avenue of relief is available, and that, if the subpoena was obeyed, respondents' First Amendment rights would be violated.

Held: The activities of the Senate Subcommittee, the individual Senators, and the Chief Counsel fall within the "legitimate legislative sphere," and since it is determined that such is the case, those activities are protected by the absolute prohibition of the Speech or Debate Clause of the Constitution against being "questioned in any other Place," and hence are immune from judicial interference. Pp. 501-511.

(a) The applicability of the Clause to private civil actions is supported by the absoluteness of the term "shall not be questioned" and the sweep of the term "in any other Place." P. 503.

(b) Issuance of subpoenas such as the one in question is a legitimate use by Congress of its power to investigate, and the subpoena power may be exercised by a committee acting, as here, on behalf of one of the Houses. Pp. 503-505.

[95 S.Ct. 1816] (c) Inquiry into the sources of the funds used to carry on activities suspected by a subcommittee of Congress to have a potential

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for undermining the morale of the Armed Forces is within the legitimate legislative sphere. Pp. 505-507.

(d) There is no distinction between the Subcommittee's Members and its Chief Counsel insofar as complete immunity from the issuance of the subpoena under the Speech or Debate Clause is concerned, and since the Members are immune because the issuance of the subpoena is "essential to legislating," their aides share that immunity. P. 507.

(e) The subpoena cannot be held subject to judicial questioning on the alleged ground that it works an invasion of respondents' privacy, since it is "essential to legislating." P. 508.

(f) Nor can the subpoena be held outside the protection of speech or debate immunity on the alleged ground that the motive of the investigation was improper, since, in determining the legitimacy of a congressional action, the motives alleged to have prompted it are not to be considered. Pp. 508-509.

(g) In view of the absolute terms of the speech or debate protection, a mere allegation that First Amendment rights may be infringed by the subpoena does not warrant judicial interference. Pp. 509-511.

159 U.S.App.D.C. 352, 488 F.2d 1252, reversed and remanded.

BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. MARSHALL, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which BRENNAN and STEWART, JJ., joined, post, p. 513. DOUGLAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 518.

BURGER, J., lead opinion

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

We granted certiorari to decide whether a federal court may enjoin the issuance by Congress of a subpoena duces tecum that directs a bank to produce the bank records of an organization which claims a First Amendment

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privilege status for those records on the ground that they are the equivalent of confidential membership lists. The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit held that compliance with the subpoena "would invade the constitutional rights" of the organization, and that judicial relief is available to prevent implementation of the subpoena.


In early 1970, the Senate Subcommittee on Internal Security was given broad authority by the Senate to

make a complete and continuing study and investigation of . . . the administration, operation, and enforcement of the Internal Security Act of 1950. . . .

S.Res. 341, 91st Cong., 2d Sess. (1970). The authority encompassed discovering the "extent, nature, and effect of subversive activities in the United States," and the resolution specifically directed inquiry concerning "infiltration by persons who are or may be under the domination of the foreign government. . . ." Ibid. See also S.Res. 366, 81st Cong., 2d Sess. (1950). Pursuant to that mandate the Subcommittee began an inquiry into the activities of respondent United States Servicemen's Fund, Inc. (USSF).

USSF describes itself as a nonprofit membership corporation supported by contributions.1 Its stated purpose is "to further the welfare of persons who have served or are presently serving in the military." To accomplish its declared purpose, USSF has engaged in various activities2 directed at United States servicemen.

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It established "coffee houses" near domestic military installations, and aided the publication of "underground" newspapers for distribution on [95 S.Ct. 1817] American military installations throughout the world. The coffeehouses were meeting places for servicemen, and the newspapers were specialized publications which USSF claims dealt with issues of concern to servicemen. Through these operations, USSF attempted to communicate to servicemen its philosophy and attitudes concerning United States involvement in Southeast Asia. USSF claims the coffee houses and newspapers became "the focus of dissent and expressions of opposition within the military toward the war in [Southeast Asia]."3

In the course of its investigation of USSF, the Subcommittee concluded that a prima facie showing had been made of the need for further investigation, and it resolved that appropriate subpoenas, including subpoenas duces tecum, could be issued. Petitioner Eastland, a United States Senator, is, as he was then, Chairman of the Subcommittee. On May 28, 1970, pursuant to the above authority, he signed a subpoena duces tecum, issued on behalf of the Subcommittee, to the bank where USSF then had an account. The subpoena commanded the bank to produce by June 4, 1970:

any and all records appertaining to or involving the account or accounts of [USSF]. Such records to comprehend papers, correspondence, statements, checks, deposit slips and supporting documentation, or microfilm thereof within [the bank's] control or custody or within [its] means to produce.

From the record, it appears the subpoena was never actually served on the bank.4 In any event, before the

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return date, USSF and two of its members brought this action to enjoin implementation of the subpoena duces tecum.

The complaint named as defendants Chairman Eastland, nine other Senators, the Chief Counsel to the Subcommittee, and the bank.5 The complaint charged that the authorizing resolutions and the Subcommittee's actions implementing them were an unconstitutional abuse of the legislative power of inquiry, that the "sole purpose" of the Subcommittee investigation was to force "public disclosure of beliefs, opinions, expressions and associations of private citizens which may be unorthodox or unpopular," and that the "sole purpose" of the subpoena was to

harass, chill, punish and deter [USSF and its members] in their exercise of their rights and duties under the First Amendment, and particularly to stifle the freedom of the press and association guaranteed by that amendment.6

The subpoena was issued to the bank, rather than to USSF and its members, the complaint claimed,

in order to deprive [them] of their rights to protect their private records, such as the sources of their contributions, as they would be entitled to do if the subpoenas had been issued against them directly.

The complaint further claimed that financial support to

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USSF is obtained exclusively through contributions from private individuals, and, if the bank records are disclosed, "much of that financial support will be withdrawn, and USSF will be unable to continue its constitutionally protected activities."7

For relief, USSF and its members, the respondents, sought a permanent injunction restraining the Members of the [95 S.Ct. 1818] Subcommittee and its Chief Counsel from trying to enforce the subpoena by contempt of Congress or other means and restraining the bank from complying with the subpoena.8 Respondents also sought a declaratory judgment declaring the subpoena and the Senate resolutions void under the Constitution. No damages claim was made.

Since the return date on the subpoena was June 4, 1970, three days after the action was begun, enforcement of the subpoena was stayed9 in order to avoid mootness and to prevent possible irreparable injury. The District Court then held hearings and took testimony on the matter. That court ultimately held10 that respondents

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had not made a sufficient showing of irreparable...

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