Barenblatt v. United States

Decision Date08 June 1959
Docket NumberNo. 35,35
Citation3 L.Ed.2d 1115,79 S.Ct. 1081,360 U.S. 109
PartiesLloyd BARENBLATT, Petitioner, v. UNITED STATES of America
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Mr. Edward J. Ennis, Washington, D.C., for the petitioner.

Mr. Philip R. Monahan, Washington, D.C., for the respondent.

Mr. Justice HARLAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

Once more the Court is required to resolve the conflicting constitutional claims of congressional power and of an individual's right to resist its exercise. The congressional power in question concerns the internal process of Congress in moving within its legislative domain; it involves the utilization of its committees to secure 'testimony needed to enable it efficiently to exercise a legislative function belonging to it under the Constitution.' McGrain v. Dougherty, 273 U.S. 135, 160, 47 S.Ct. 319, 324, 71 L.Ed. 580. The power of inquiry has been employed by Congress throughout our history, over the whole range of the national interests concerning which Congress might legislate or decide upon due investigation not to legislate; it has similarly been utilized in determining what to appropriate from the national purse, or whether to appropriate. The scope of the power of inquiry, in short, is as penetrating and far-reaching as the potential power to enact and appropriate under the Constitution.

Broad as it is, the power is not, however, without limitations. Since Congress may only investigate into those areas in which it may potentially legislate or appropriate it cannot inquire into matters which are within the exclusive province of one of the other branches of the Government. Lacking the judicial power given to the Judiciary, it cannot inquire into matters that are exclusively the concern of the Judiciary. Neither can it supplant the Executive in what exclusively belongs to the Executive. And the Congress, in common with all branches of the Government, must exercise its powers subject to the limitations placed by the Constitution on governmental action, more particularly in the context of this case the relevant limitations of the Bill of Rights.

The congressional power of inquiry, its range and scope, and an individual's duty in relation to it, must be viewed in proper perspective. McGrain v. Daugherty, supra; Landis, Constitutional Limitations on the Congressional Power of Investigation, 40 Harv.L.Rev. 153, 214; Black, Inside a Senate Investigation, 172 Harpers Monthly 275 (February 1936). The power and the right of resistance to it are to be judged in the concrete, not on the basis of abstractions. In the present case congressional efforts to learn the extent of a nation-wide, indeed worldwide, problem have brought one of its investigating committees into the field of education. Of course, broadly viewed, inquires cannot be made into the teaching that is pursued in any of our educational institutions. When academic teaching-freedom and its corollary learning-freedom, so essential to the well-being of the Nation, are claimed, this Court will always be on the alert againstint rusion by Congress into this constitutionally protected domain. But this does not mean that the Congress is precluded from interrogating a witness merely because he is a teacher. An educational institution is not a constitutional sanctuary from inquiry into matters that may otherwise be within the constitutional legislative domain merely for the reason that inquiry is made of someone within its walls.

In the setting of this framework of constitutional history, practice and legal precedents, we turn to the particularities of this case.

We here review petitioner's conviction under 2 U.S.C. § 192, 2 U.S.C.A. § 192. 1 for contempt of Congress, arising from his refusal to answer certain questions put to him by a Subcommittee of the House Committee on Un-American Activities during the course of an inquiry concerning alleged Communist infiltration into the field of education.

The case is before us for the second time. Petitioner's conviction was originally affirmed in 1957 by a unanimous panel of the Court of Appeals, 100 U.S.App.D.C. 13, 240 F.2d 875. This Court granted certiorari, 354 U.S. 930, 77 S.Ct. 1394, 1 L.Ed.2d 1533, vacated the judgment of the Court of Appeals, and remanded the case to that court for further consideration in light of Watkins v. United States, 354 U.S. 178, 77 S.Ct. 1173, 1 L.Ed.2d 1273, which had reversed a contempt of Congress conviction, and which was decided after the Court of Appeals' decision here had issued. Thereafter the Court of Appeals, sitting en banc, reaffirmed the conviction by a divided court. 102 U.S.App.D.C. 217, 252 F.2d 129. We again granted certiorari, 356 U.S. 929, 78 S.Ct. 771, 2 L.Ed.2d 760, to consider petitioner's statutory and constitutional challenges to his conviction, and particularly has claim that the judgment below cannot stand under our decision in the Watkins case.

Pursuant to a subpoena, and accompanied by counsel, petitioner on June 28, 1954, appeared as a witness before this congressional Subcommittee. After answering a few preliminary questions and testifying that he had been a graduate student and teaching fellow at the University of Michigan from 1947 to 1950 and an instructor in psychology at Vassar College from 1950 to shortly before his appearance before the Subcommittee, petitioner objected generally to the right of the Subcommittee to inquire into his 'political' and 'religious' beliefs or any 'other personal and private affairs' or 'associational activities,' upon grounds set forth in a previously prepared memorandum which he was allowed to file with the Subcommittee.2 Thereafter petitioner specifically declined to answer each of the following five questions:

'Are you now a member of the Communist Party? (Count One.)

'Have you ever been a member of the Communist Party? (Count Two.)

'Now, you have stated that you knew Francis Crowley. Did you know Francis row ley as a member of the Communist Party? (Count Three.)

'Were you ever a member of the Haldane Club of the Communist Party while at the University of Michigan? (Count Four.)

'Were you a member while a student of the University of Michigan Council of Arts, Sciences, and Professions?' (Count Five.)

In each instance the grounds of refusal were those set forth in the prepared statement. Petitioner expressly disclaimed reliance upon 'the Fifth Amendment.'3 Following receipt of the Subcommittee's report of these occurrences the House duly certified the matter to the District of Columbia United States Attorney for contempt proceedings. An indictment in five Counts, each embracing one of petitioner's several refusals to answer, ensued. With the consent of both sides the case was tried to the court without a jury, and upon conviction under all Counts a general sentence of six months' imprisonment and a fine of $250 was imposed.

Since this sentence was less than the maximum punishment authorized by the statute for conviction under any one Count,4 the judgment below must be upheld if the conviction upon any of the Counts is sustainable. See Claassen v. United States, 142 U.S. 140, 147, 12 S.Ct. 169, 170, 35 L.Ed. 966; Roviaro v. United States, 353 U.S. 53, 77 S.Ct. 623, 1 L.Ed.2d 639; Whitfield v. State of Ohio, 297 U.S. 431, 56 S.Ct. 532, 80 L.Ed. 778. As we conceive the ultimate issue in this case to be whether petitioner could properly be convicted of contempt for refusing to answer questions relating to his participation in or knowledge of alleged Communist Party activities at educational institutions in this country, we find it unnecessary to consider the validity of his conviction under the Third and Fifth Counts, the only ones involving questions which on their face do not directly relate to such participation or knowledge.

Petitioner's various contentions resolve themselves into three propositions: First, the compelling of testimony by the Subcommittee was neither legislatively authorized nor constitutionally permissible because of the vagueness of Rule XI of the House of Representatives, Eighty-third Congress, the charter of authority of the parent Committee.5 Second, petitioner was not adequately apprised of the pertinency of the Subcommittee's questions to the subject matter of the inquiry. Third, the questions petitioner refused to answer infringed rights protected by the First Amendment.

Subcommittee's Authority to Compel Testimony.

At the outset it should be noted that Rule XI authorized this Subcommittee to compel testimony within the framework of the investigative authority conferred on the Un-American Activities Committee.6 Petitioner contends that Watkins v. United States, supra, nevertheless held the grant of this power in all circumstances ineffective because of the vagueness of Rule XI in delineating the Committee jurisdiction to which its exercise was to be appurtenant. This view of Watkins was accepted by two of the dissenting judges below. 102 U.S.App.D.C. 124, 252 F.2d at page 136.

The Watkins case cannot properly be read as standing for such a proposition. A principal contention in Watkins was that the refusals to answer were justified because the requirement of 2 U.S.C. § 192, 2 U.S.C.A. § 192 that the questions asked be 'pertinent to the question under inquiry' had not been satisfied. 354 U.S. at pages 208—209, 77 S.Ct. at page 1190. This Court reversed the conviction solely on that ground, holding that Watkins had not been adequately apprised of the subject matter of the Subcommittee's investigation or the per- tinency thereto of the questions he refused to answer. Id., 354 U.S. at pages 206—209, 214—215, 77 S.Ct. at pages 1188—1190, 1193 1194; and see the concurring opinion in that case, id., 354 U.S. at page 216, 77 S.Ct. at page 1194. In so deciding the Court drew upon Rule XI only as one of the facets in the total mise en scene in its search...

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