Jenkins v. Keithen

Decision Date09 June 1969
Docket NumberNo. 548,548
PartiesRoderick JENKINS, Appellant, v. John Julien McKEITHEN et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

[Syllabus from pages 411-413 intentionally omitted] J. Minos Simon, Lafayette, La., for appellant.

Ashton L. Stewart, Baton Rouge, La., for appellees.

Mr. Justice MARSHALL announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion in which Mr. CHIEF JUSTICE WARREN and Mr. Justice BRENNAN join.

This case involves the constitutionality of a 1967 Louisiana statute, known as Act No. 2, which creates a body called the Labor-Management Commission of Inquiry. La.Rev.Stat.Ann. §§ 23:880.1—23:880.18 (Supp.1969). The stated purpose of this Commission is 'the investigation and findings of facts relating to violations or possible violations of criminal laws of the state of Louisiana or of the United States arising out of or in connection with matters in the field of labor-management relations * * *.' Act No. 2, Preamble, (1967 Extra.Sess.) La.Acts 3. Appellant, a member of a labor union, filed this suit in the District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana challenging the constitutionality of Act No. 2 and of certain actions taken by state officials in the administration of the Act and otherwise. He sought both declaratory and injunctive relief. A three-judge court was convened and that court ultimately granted appellees' motion to dismiss the complaint. Jenkins v. McKeithen, 286 F.Supp. 537 (D.C.E.D.La.1968). We noted probable jurisdiction of an appeal brought under 28 U.S.C. § 1253.1 We reverse.

Since the case was decided on a motion to dismiss, a rather detailed examination of the structure of the Act and of the allegations of the complaint is necessary.


The impetus for the formation of the Commission was stated in the preamble of the Act. (1967 Extra.Sess.) La.Acts 2. It cited 'unprecedented conditions' in the labor relations of the construction industry, and it particularly noted certain 'allegations and accusations of violations of the state and federal criminal laws which should be thoroughly investigated in the public interest * * *.' Id., at 3. The additional investigative facilities of the Commission were thought necessary to 'supplement and assist the efforts and activities of the several district attorneys, grand juries and other law enforcement officials and agencies * * *.' Ibid.

The Commission is composed of nine members appointed by the Governor. La.Rev.Stat.Ann. § 23:880.1 (Supp.1969). It is empowered to act only upon referral by the Governor when, in his opinion, there is substantial indication that there are or may be 'widespread or continuing violations of existing criminal laws' affecting labor-management relations. La.Rev.Stat.Ann. § 23:880.5 (Supp.1969). Upon referral by the Governor, the Commission is to proceed by public hearing to ascertain the facts pertaining to the alleged violations. La.Rev.Stat.Ann. § 23:880.6 (Supp.1969). In order to carry out this function, the Commission has the power to make appropriate rules and regulations, to employ attorneys, investigators, and other staff members, to compel the attendance of witnesses, to examine them under oath, and to require the production of books, records, and other evidence. La.Rev.Stat.Ann. § 23:880.8 (Supp.1969). It can enforce its orders by petition to the state courts for contempt proceedings. La.Rev.Stat.Ann. § 23:880.9 (Supp.1969).

The scope of the Commission's investigative authority is explicitly limited by the Act to violations of criminal laws. 'The commission shall have no power, authority or jurisdiction to investigate, hold hearings or seek to ascertain the facts or make any reports or recommendations on any of the strictly civil aspects of any labor problem * * *.' La.Rev.Stat.Ann. § 23:880.6 B (Supp.1969). 2 Further, the Commission has no power to participate in any manner in any civil proceeding, except, of course, contempt proceedings. Ibid. The limitation of the Commission to criminal matters is further reinforced by the provision of the Act allowing the Commission, at the request of the Governor, to assign its investigatory forces to the state police to assist the latter in their investigatory activities. La.Rev.Stat.Ann. § 23:880.6 C (Supp.1969).

The Commission is required to determine, in public findings, whether there is probable cause to believe violations of the criminal laws have occurred. La.Rev.Stat.Ann. § 23:880.7 A (Supp.1969). Its power is limited to making these findings and recommendations:

'The commission shall have no authority to and it shall make no binding adjudication with respect to such violation or violations; however, it may, in its discretion, include in its findings the conclusions of the commission as to specific individuals * * * and it may make such recommendations for action to the governor as it deems appropriate.' Ibid.

The findings are to be a matter of public record, La.Rev.Stat.Ann. § 23:880.15 B (Supp.1969), although they may not be used as prima facie or presumptive evidence of guilt or innocence in any court of law, La.Rev.Stat.Ann. § 23:880.7 A (Supp.1969). The Commission is required to report its findings to the proper state or federal authorities if it finds there is probable cause to believe that violations of the criminal laws have occurred, and it may file appropriate charges. La.Rev.Stat.Ann. § 23:880.7 B (Supp.1969). Finally, the Commission may request the Governor to refer matters to the State Attorney General asking the latter to exercise his authority to cause criminal prosecutions to be instituted. La.Rev.Stat.Ann. § 23:880.7 D (Supp.1969). Nothing in the Act makes any provision for preparation of findings or reports for submission to the Governor or the legislature for the explicit purpose of legislative action. Indeed, the preamble of the Act and the Act itself make it clear that the purpose of the Commission is to supplement the activities of the State's law enforcement agencies in one narrowly defined area.

As indicated above, the Commission has the power to compel the attendance of witnesses. A witness is given notice of the general subject matter of the investigation before being asked to appear and testify. La.Rev.Stat.Ann. § 23:880.10 A (Supp.1969). A witness has the right to the presence and advice of counsel, 'subject to such reasonable limitations as the commission may impose in order to prevent obstruction of or interference with the orderly conduct of the hearing.' La.Rev.Stat.Ann. § 23:880.10 B (Supp.1969). Counsel may question his client as to any relevant matters, ibid., but the right of a witness or his counsel to examine other witnesses is limited: limited: have any right to examine or cross-examine any other witness but he may submit to the commission proposed questions to be asked of any other witness appearing before the commission, and the commission shall ask the witness such of the questions as it deems to be appropriate to its inquiry.' Ibid.

With one limited exception to be discussed below, neither a witness nor any other private party has the right to call anyone to testify before the Commission.

Although the Commission must base its findings and reports only on evidence and testimony given at public hearings, the Act does provide for executive session when it appears that the testimony to be given 'may tend to degrade, defame or incriminate any person.' La.Rev.Stat.Ann. § 23:880.12 A (Supp.1969). In executive session the Commission must allow the person who might be degraded, defamed, or incriminated an opportunity to appear and be heard, and to call a reasonable number of witnesses on his behalf. Ibid. However, the Commission may decide that the evidence or testimony shall be heard in a public hearing, regardless of its effect on any particular person. Ibid. In that case, the person affected has the right to appear as a 'voluntary witness' and may submit 'pertinent' statements of others. Ibid. He may submit a list of additional witnesses, but subpoenas will be issued only in the discretion of the Commission. Ibid.; see also La.Rev.Stat.Ann. § 23:880.12 C (Supp.1969).


Appellant's complaint named as defendants the Governor of Lous iana and six members of the Commission. The complaint presented, inter alia, the question of whether the provisions of Act No. 2 violated the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. Appellant alleged that the Commission was an executive trial agency 'aimed at conducting public trials concerning criminal law violations,' and that its function was publicly to condemn. Appellant asserted that the defendants

'in connection with the administration of the provisions of said Act, have singled out complaint and members of Teamsters Local No. 5 as a special class of persons for repressive and willfully punitive action * * * in furtherance of which a deliberate effort has been made and continues to be made by said officials * * * to destroy the current power structure of the labor union aforesaid * * *.'

More specifically, the complaint alleged that appellees and their agents, acting under color of law and in conspiracy, procured false statements of criminal activities and used such statements to initiate baseless criminal proceedings against appellant, that they intimidated and coerced public officials into filing and prosecuting false criminal charges against appellant, and that they knowingly, willfully, and purposefully intimidated state court judges having under consideration legal controversies involving appellant. These acts of appellees allegedly deprived appellant and all others similarly situated of 'rights, privileges and immunities secured to them by the Constitution and laws of the United States.' Finally, appellant alleged that the appellees intended to continue to deprive him and others of their rights and that there was no 'plain, adequate or...

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