Hannah v. Larche Hannah v. Slawson

Citation80 S.Ct. 1502,363 U.S. 420,4 L.Ed.2d 1307
Decision Date20 June 1960
Docket Number550,Nos. 549,s. 549
PartiesJohn A. HANNAH et al., Appellants, v. Margaret M. LARCHE et al. John A. HANNAH et al., Petitioners, v. J. A. H. SLAWSON et al
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Mr. Lawrence E. Walsh, Washington, D.C., for appellants in No. 549 and for petitioners in No. 550.

Mr. Jack P. F. Gremillion, Baton Rouge, La., for appellees in No. 549.

Mr. W. M. Shaw, Homer, La., for respondents in No. 550.

Mr. Chief Justice WARREN delivered the opinion of the Court.

These cases involve the validity of certain Rules of Procedure adopted by the Commission on Civil Rights, which was established by Congress in 1957.1 Civil Rights Act of 1957, 71 Stat. 634, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1975—1975e, 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 1975—1975e. They arise out of the Commission's investigation of alleged Negro voting deprivations in the State of Louisiana. The appellees in No. 549 are registrars of voters in the State of Louisiana, and the respondents in No. 550 are private citizens of Louisiana.2 After having been summoned to appear before a hearing which the Commission proposed to conduct in Shreveport, Louisiana, these registrars and private citizens requested the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana to enjoin the Commission from holding its anticipated hearing. It was alleged, among other things, that the Commission's Rules of Procedure governing the conduct of its investigations were unconstitutional. The specific rules challenged are those which provide that the identity of persons submitting complaints to the Commission need not be disclosed, and that those summoned to testify before the Commission, including persons against whom complaints have been filed, may not cross-examine other witnesses called by the Commission. The District Court held that the Commission was not authorized to adopt the Rules of Procedure here in question, and therefore issued an injunction which prohibits the Commission from holding any hearings in the Western District of Louisiana as long as the challenged procedures remain in force. The Commission requested this Court to review the District Court's decision.3 We granted the Commission's motion to advance the cases, and oral argument was accordingly scheduled on the jurisdiction on appeal in No. 549, on the petition for certiorari in No. 550, and on the merits of both cases.

Having heard oral argument as scheduled, we now take jurisdiction in No. 549 and grant certiorari in No 550. The specific questions which we must decide are (1) whether the Commission was authorized by Congress to adopt the Rules of Procedure challenged by the respondents, and (2) if so, whether those procedures violate the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.

A description of the events leading up to this litigation is necessary not only to place the legal questions in their proper factual context, but also to indicate the significance of the Commission's proposed Shreveport hearing. During the months prior to its decision to convene the hearing, the Commission had received some sixty-seven complaints from individual Negroes who alleged that they had been discriminatorily deprived of their right to vote. Based upon these complaints, and pursuant to its statutory mandate to 'investigate allegations in writing under oath or affirmation that certain citizens of the United States are being deprived of their right to vote and have that vote counted by reason of their color, race, religion, or national origin,'4 the Commission began its investigation into the Louisiana voting situation by making several ex parte attempts to acquire information. Thus, in March 1959, a member of the Commission's staff interviewed the Voting Registrars of Claiborne, Caddo, and Webster Parishes, but obtained little relevant information. During one of these interviews the staff member is alleged to have informed Mrs. Lannie Linton, the Registrar of Claiborne Parish, that the Commission had on file four sworn statements charging her with depriving Negroes of their voting rights solely because of their race. Subsequent to this interview, Mr. W. M. Shaw, Mrs. Linton's personal attorney, wrote a letter to Mr. Gordon M. Tiffany, the Staff Director of the Commission, in which it was asserted that Mrs. Linton knew the sworn complaints lodged against her to be false. The letter also indicated that Mrs. Linton wished to prefer perjury charges against the affiants, and Mr. Shaw therefore demanded that the Commission forward to him copies of the affidavits so that a proper presentment could be made to the grand jury. On April 14, 1959, Mr. Tiffany replied to Mr. Shaw's letter and indicated that the Commission had denied the request for copies of the sworn affidavits. Mr. Shaw was also informed of the following official statement adopted by the Commission:

'The Commission from its first meeting forward, having considered all complaints submitted to it as confidential because such confidentiality is essential in carrying out the statutory duties of the Commission, the Staff Director is hereby instructed not to disclose the names of complainants or other information contained in complaints to anyone except members of the Commission and members of the staff assigned to process, study, or investigate such complaints.'

A copy of Mr. Tiffany's letter was sent to Mr. Jack P. F. Gremillion, the Attorney General of Louisiana, who had previously informed the Commission that under Louisiana law the Attorney General is the legal adviser for all voting registrars in any hearing or investigation before a federal commission.

Another attempt to obtain information occurred on May 13, 1959, when Mr. Tiffany, upon Commission authorization, sent a list of 315 written interrogatories to Mr. Gremillion. These interrogatories requested very detailed and specific information, and were to be answered by the voting registrars of nineteen Louisiana parishes. Although Mr. Gremillion and the Governor of Louisiana had previously assented to the idea of written interrogatories, on May 28, 1959, Mr. Gremillion sent a letter to Mr. Tiffany indicating that the voting registrars refused to answer the interrogatories. The reasons given for the refusal were that many of the questions seemed unrelated to the functions of voting registrars, that the questions were neither accompanied by specific complaints nor related to specific complaints, and that the time and research required to answer the questions placed an unreasonable burden upon the voting registrars.

In response to this refusal, on May 29, 1959, Mr. Tiffany sent a telegram to Mr. Gremillion, informing the latter that the interrogatories were based upon specific allegations received by the Commission, and reaffirming the Commission's position that the identity of specific complainants would not be disclosed. Mr. Tiffany's letter contained a further request that the interrogatories be answered and sent to the Commission by June 5, 1959. On June 2, 1959, Mr. Gremillion wrote a letter to Mr. Tiffany reiterating the registrars' refusal, and again requesting that the names of complainants be disclosed.

Finally, as a result of this exchange of correspondence, and because the Commission's attempts to obtain information ex parte had been frustrated, the Commission, acting pursuant to Section 105(f) of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, 5 decided to hold the Shreveport hearing commencing on July 13, 1959.

Notice of the scheduled hearing was sent to Mr. Gremillion, and between June 29 and July 6, subpoenas duces tecum were served on the respondents in No. 549, ordering them to appear at the hearing and to bring with them various voting and registration records within their custody and control. Subpoenas were also served upon the respondents in No. 550. These private citizens were apparently summoned to explain their activities with regard to alleged deprivations of Negro voting rights.6

On July 8, 1959, Mr. Tiffany wrote to Mr. Gremillion, enclosing copies of the Civil Rights Act and of the Commission's Rules of Procedure.7 Mr. Gremillion's attention was also drawn to Section 102(h) of the Civil Rights Act, which permits witnesses to submit, subject to the discretion of the Commission, brief and pertinent sworn statements for inclusion in the record. 8

Two days later, on July 10, 1959, the respondents in No. 549 and No. 550 filed two separate complaints in the Dis- trict Court for the Western District of Louisiana. Both complaints alleged that the respondents would suffer irreparable harm by virtue of the Commission's refusal to furnish the names of persons who had filed allegations of voting deprivations, as well as the contents of the allegations, and by its further refusal to permit the respondents to confront and cross-examine the persons making such allegations. In addition, both complaints alleged that the Commission's refusals not only violated numerous provisions of the Federal Constitution, but also constituted 'ultra vires' acts not authorized either by Congress or the Chief Executive. The respondents in No. 549 also alleged that they could not comply with the subpoenas duces tecum because Louisiana law prohibited voting registrars from removing their voting records except 'upon an order of a competent court,' and because the Commission was not such a 'court.' Finally, the complaint in No. 549 alleged that the Civil Rights Act was unconstitutional because it did not constitute 'appropriate legislation within the meaning of Section (2) of the XV Amendment.'

Both complaints sought a temporary restraining order and a permanent injunction prohibiting the members of the Commission (a) from compelling the 'testimony from or the production of any records' by the respondents until copies of the sworn charges, together with the names and addresses of the persons filing such charges...

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