Berger v. United States, No. 460

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtMcKENNA
Citation65 L.Ed. 481,41 S.Ct. 230,255 U.S. 22
Decision Date31 January 1921
Docket NumberNo. 460
PartiesBERGER et al. v. UNITED STATES

255 U.S. 22
41 S.Ct. 230
65 L.Ed. 481
BERGER et al.

v.

UNITED STATES.

No. 460.
Argued Dec. 9, 1920.
Decided Jan. 31, 1921.

Page 23

Messrs. Seymour Stedman, of Chicago, Ill., and Henry F. Cochems, of Milwaukee, Wis., for Berger and others.

Mr. Solicitor General Frierson, of Chattanooga, Tenn., for the United States.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 23-26 intentionally omitted]

Page 26

Mr. Justice McKENNA delivered the opinion of the Court.

Section 21 of the Judicial Code (Comp. St. § 988) provides as follows:

'Whenever a party to any action or proceeding, civil or criminal, shall make and file an affidavit that the judge before whom the action or proceeding is to be tried or heard has a personal bias or prejudice either against him or in favor of any opposite party to the suit, such judge

Page 27

shall proceed no further therein, but another judge shall be designated in the manner prescribed in the section last preceding, or chosen in the manner prescribed in section twenty-three, to hear such matter. Every such affidavit shall state the facts and the reasons for the belief that such bias or prejudice exists, * * * No party shall be entitled in any case to file more than one such affidavit; and no such affidavit shall be filed unless accompanied by a certificate of counsel of record that such affidavit and application are made in good faith. The same proceedings shall be had when the presiding judge shall file with the clerk of the court a certificate that he deems himself unable for any reason to preside with absolute impartiality in the pending suit or action.'

February 2, 1918, there was returned into the District Court of the United States for the Northern District of Illinois, an indictment against plaintiffs in error (it will be convenient to refer to them as defendants), charging them with a violation of the Act of Congress of June 15, 1917, known as the Espionage Act (40 Stat. 217, c. 30).1 In due time they invoked section 21 by filing an affidavit charging Judge Landis, who was to preside at the trial, with personal bias and prejudice against them, and moved for the assignment of another judge to preside at the trial. The motion was denied and upon the trial defendants were convicted and each sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment. From the judgment and sentence they took

Page 28

the case to the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. That court, reciting that certain questions of law under section 21 have arisen upon the affidavit and motion upon which the court is in doubt and upon which it desires the advice and instructions of this court, certifies questions of the sufficiency of the affidavit and the duty of the judge thereunder, and also certifies the affidavit and other proceedings upon such motion.

The affidavit, omitting formal and unnecessary parts, is as follows:

Petitioners [defendants] represent 'that they jointly and severally verily believe that his honor Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis has a personal bias and prejudice against certain of the defendants, to wit, Victor L. Berger, William F. Kruse and Adolph Germer, defendants in this cause, and impleaded with J. Louis Engdahl and Irwin St. John Tucker, defendants in this case. That the grounds for the petitioners' beliefs are the following facts: That said Adolph Germer was born in Prussia, a state or province of Germany; that Victor L. Berger was born in Rehback, Austria; that William F. Kruse is of immediate German extraction; that said Judge Landis is prejudiced and biased against said defendants because of their nativity, and in support thereof the defendants allege, that, on information and belief, on or about the 1st day of November said Judge Landis said in substance: 'If anybody has said anything worse about the Germans than I have I would like to know it so I can ust it.' And referring to a German who was charged with stating that 'Germany had money and plenty of men and wait and see what she is going to do to the United States,' Judge Landis said in substance: 'One must have a very judicial mind, indeed, not to be prejudiced against the German-Americans in this country. Their hearts are reeking with disloyalty. This defendant is the kind of a man that spreads this kind of propaganda, and it has been spread until it has affected practically all the Ger

Page 29

mans in this country. This same kind of excuse of the defendant offering to protect the German people is the same kind of excuse offered by the pacifists in this country, who are against the United States and have the interests of the enemy at heart by defending that thing they call the Kaiser and his darling people. You are the same kind of a man that comes over to this country from Germany to get away from the Kaiser and war. You have become a citizen of this country and lived here as such, and now when this country is at war with Germany you seek to undermine the country which gave you protection. You are of the same mind that practically all the German-Americans are in this country, and you call yourselves German-Americans. Your hearts are reeking with disloyalty. I know a safe-blower, he is a friend of mine, who is making a good soldier in France. He was a bank robber for nine years, that was his business in peace time, and now he is a good soldier, and as between him and this defendant, I prefer the safeblower.'

'These defendants further aver that they have at no time defended the Kaiser, but on the contrary they have been opposed to an autocracy in Germany and every other country; that Victor L. Berger, defendant herein, editor of the Milwaukee Leader, a Socialist daily paper, Adolph Germer, national secretary of the Socialist party, William F. Kruse, editor of the Young Socialists Magazine, a Socialist publication, and J. Louis Engdahl disapproved the entrance of the United States into this war.

'Your petitioners further aver that the defendants Tucker and Engdahl were born in the United States and were not born in enemy countries, and are not immediate descendants of persons born in enemy countries, but verily believe because they are impleaded with Berger, Kruse and Germer that they as well as Berger, Germer and Kruse cannot receive a fair and impartial trial, and that the prejudice of said Judge Landis against said

Page 30

Berger, Germer and Kruse would prejudice the defense of said defendants Tucker and Engdahl impleaded in this case.'

The affidavit was accompanied by the certificate of Seymour Stedman, attorney for defendants, that the affidavit and application were made in good faith.

The questions certified are as follows:

(1) Is the aforesaid affidavit of prejudice sufficient to invoke the operation of the act which provides for the filing of affidavit of prejudice of a judge?

(2) Did said Judge Landis have the lawful right to pass upon the sufficiency of the said affidavit of his prejudice, or upon any question arising out of the filing of said affidavit?

(3) Upon the filing of the said affidavit of prejudice of said Judge Landis, did the said judge have lawful right and power to preside as judge on the trial of plaintiffs in error upon said indictment?

The basis of the question is section 21, and the primary question under it is the duty and power of the judge, whether the filing of an affidavit of personal bias or prejudice compels his retirement from the case or whether he can exercise a judgment upon the facts affirmed and determine his qualification against them and the belief based upon them?

These alternatives present the contentions in the case. Defendants contend for the first; the United States contends for the second. The assertion of defendants is that the mandate of the section is not subject to the discretion or judgment of the judge. The assertion of the United States is that the motion and its supporting affidavit, like other motions and their supporting evidence, are submitted for decision and the exercise of the judicial judgment upon them. In other words, the action of the affidavit is not 'automatic,' to quote the Solicitor General, but depends upon the substance and merit of its reasons and the truth of its facts, and upon both the judge has

Page 31

jurisdiction to pass. The issue is therefore precise, and while not in broad compass is practically of first impression as now presented.

In Glasgow v. Moyer, 225 U. S. 420, 32 Sup. Ct. 753, 56 L. Ed. 1147, the section was referred to but not passed upon. In Ex parte American Steel Barrel Co., 230 U. S. 35, 33 Sup. Ct. 1007, 57 L. Ed. 1379, the phase of the section presented here was not presented. There proceedings in bankruptcy had progressed to a decree of adjudication, and the judge who had conducted them was charged by certain creditors with bias and prejudice based on his rulings in the case. Such use of section 21 was disapproved. 'It was never intended,' it was said, 'to enable a discontented litigant to oust a judge because of adverse rulings made, for such rulings are reviewable otherwise, but to prevent his future action in the pending cause.' As pertinent to the comment and to the meaning of section 21, we may say, that Judge Chatfield, against whom the affidavit was directed, said that he felt that the intention of section 21 was 'to cause a transfer of the case without reference to the merits of the charge of bias,' and he did so immediately, in order, as he said, 'that the application of the creditors' might 'be considered as speedily as possible by such judge as' might 'be designated.' Another judge was designated and to restrain action by the latter and vacate the orders that he had made, and to command Judge Chatfield to resume jurisdiction, mandamus was sought. It was denied. The case establishes that the bias or prejudice which can be urged against a judge must be based upon something other than rulings in the case.

The cases at circuit in which section 21 was considered have not...

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718 practice notes
  • United States v. Boffa, Crim. A. No. 80-36.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Delaware)
    • February 19, 1981
    ...as true and the judge may not question either the truth of the allegations or the good faith of the affidavit, Berger v. United States, 255 U.S. 22, 33-35, 41 S.Ct. 230, 233, 65 L.Ed. 481 (1921); Simmons v. United States, 302 F.2d 71, 75 (C.A.3, 1962), even though the judge may know to a ce......
  • Blakely v. USAA Cas. Ins. Co., Civil No. 2:06-CV-00506 BSJ
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. United States District Court of Utah
    • December 10, 2012
    ...may prevent or impede impartiality of judgment.'" Bell v. Chandler, 569 F.2d 556, 559 (10th Cir. 1978) (quoting Berger v. United States, 255 U.S. 22, 33-34 (1921)). "A disqualification order under § 144 should be issued when 'a reasonable man would conclude on the facts stated (in the affid......
  • Wall v. American Optometric Association, Inc., Civ. A. No. 16414
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Northern District of Georgia
    • October 21, 1974
    ...U.S. 67, 92 S.Ct. 1983, 32 L. Ed.2d 556 (1972). In re Murchison, 349 U.S. 133, 75 S.Ct. 623, 99 L.Ed. 942 (1955); Berger v. United States, 255 U.S. 22, 41 S.Ct. 230, 65 L.Ed. 481 (1921). A fair and impartial tribunal requires at least that the trier of fact be disinterested. Tumey v. Ohio, ......
  • U.S. v. Bosch, No. 88-5150
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • December 9, 1991
    ...be more elusive of estimate or decision than a disposition of a mind in which there is a personal ingredient," Berger v. United States, 255 U.S. 22, 36, 41 S.Ct. 230, 234, 65 L.Ed. 481 (1921). Because the institutional integrity of the federal courts requires scrupulous protection of public......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
723 cases
  • United States v. Boffa, Crim. A. No. 80-36.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Delaware)
    • February 19, 1981
    ...as true and the judge may not question either the truth of the allegations or the good faith of the affidavit, Berger v. United States, 255 U.S. 22, 33-35, 41 S.Ct. 230, 233, 65 L.Ed. 481 (1921); Simmons v. United States, 302 F.2d 71, 75 (C.A.3, 1962), even though the judge may know to a ce......
  • Blakely v. USAA Cas. Ins. Co., Civil No. 2:06-CV-00506 BSJ
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. United States District Court of Utah
    • December 10, 2012
    ...may prevent or impede impartiality of judgment.'" Bell v. Chandler, 569 F.2d 556, 559 (10th Cir. 1978) (quoting Berger v. United States, 255 U.S. 22, 33-34 (1921)). "A disqualification order under § 144 should be issued when 'a reasonable man would conclude on the facts stated (in the affid......
  • Wall v. American Optometric Association, Inc., Civ. A. No. 16414
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Northern District of Georgia
    • October 21, 1974
    ...U.S. 67, 92 S.Ct. 1983, 32 L. Ed.2d 556 (1972). In re Murchison, 349 U.S. 133, 75 S.Ct. 623, 99 L.Ed. 942 (1955); Berger v. United States, 255 U.S. 22, 41 S.Ct. 230, 65 L.Ed. 481 (1921). A fair and impartial tribunal requires at least that the trier of fact be disinterested. Tumey v. Ohio, ......
  • U.S. v. Bosch, No. 88-5150
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • December 9, 1991
    ...be more elusive of estimate or decision than a disposition of a mind in which there is a personal ingredient," Berger v. United States, 255 U.S. 22, 36, 41 S.Ct. 230, 234, 65 L.Ed. 481 (1921). Because the institutional integrity of the federal courts requires scrupulous protection of public......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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