John Jack v. State of Kansas

Decision Date27 November 1905
Docket NumberNo. 54,54
Citation4 Ann. Cas. 689,26 S.Ct. 73,199 U.S. 372,50 L.Ed. 234
PartiesJOHN D. JACK, Plff. in Err. , v. STATE OF KANSAS
CourtU.S. Supreme Court


The plaintiff in error seeks to review the judgment of the supreme court of the state of Kansas, affirming a judgment against him of imprisonment for contempt, entered by direction of the district court of Shawnee county, in that state. The plaintiff in error had been duly subpoenaed as a witness to appear before the above mentioned district court, and was examined before that court under and by virtue of the provisions of § 10 of chapter 265 of the Laws of Kansas of 1897. Gen. Stat. 1901, § 7873. The statute is known as the Kansas anti-trust act. Section 10 is reproduced in the margin.

The proceeding was commenced in September, 1903, by the attorney general and county attorney of Shawnee county, and those officers presented to the court their verified application, informing it of the existence of combinations of persons engaged in the operation of coal mines in Osage county to fix the price of coal at the mines, and the price to be charged to purchasers; that the members of the combination met at a place in Shawnee county monthly to fix the minimum price to be charged for coal, and that they would not sell coal for less than the minimum price so fixed, and that the agreements thus entered into were by them carried out and executed. The plaintiff in error was engaged in operating a coal mine in Osage county, and was named in the application as one who had a knowledge concerning the existence of the combination, and a subpoena was thereupon asked for to be served upon him. The district judge granted the application. The subpoena was duly served, and the plaintiff in error appeared pursuant thereto before the district judge and answered some questions that were propounded him by the attorney general or county attorney. Other questions were put to him in relation to his knowledge of the meetings, and as to the existence of any agreement between the operators of the coal mines of Osage county, and with regard to the fixing of the price of coal to be sold to residents and citizens of Kansas. The plaintiff in error refused to answer these questions, and assigned reasons for such refusal at some length; but the chief ground now relied on in this court as forming a Federal question is that the statute violated the 5th and 14th Amendments of the Federal Constitution; that the statute did not furnish a broad enough indemnity, and the judgment of imprisonment deprived him of his liberty without due process of law.

The court held that the excuses given for declining to answer were insufficient, and thereupon instructed and directed the witness to answer the questions propounded to him, but he still refused to do so. Whereupon the court found him guilty of a direct contempt of court in refusing to answer the questions, and ordered that he be committed to the jail of Shawnee county until he should answer them, but not beyond a period of thirty days.

The plaintiff in error then appealed from the judgment rendered against him to the supreme court, where it was affirmed in May, 1904. To review that judgment of affirmance the plaintiff in error has brought the case here by writ of error.

W. H. Rossington, Charles Blood Smith, J. T. Pringle, and R. B. Gilluly for plaintiff in error.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 374-376 intentionally omitted] Messrs. Edwin A. Austin, C. C. Coleman, and Otis E. Hungate for defendant in error.

Statement by Mr. Justice Peckham:

[Argument of Counsel from pages 376-379 intentionally omitted] Mr. Justice Peckham, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court:

The supreme court of Kansas has held in this case that the statute under which the plaintiff in error was sentenced to be imprisoned for a contempt of court was a valid statute, and did not violate either the Constitution of the state or of the Federal government.

One portion of the statute in question has already been passed upon by this court and decided to be a valid provision as construed by the state court. Smiley v. Kansas, 196 U. S. 447, 49 L. ed. 546, 25 Sup. Ct. Rep. 289. The decision in that case has no application to the section involved herein.

It is contended on the part of the plaintiff in error that the court below denied to him the protection of § 10 of the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of Kansas, and also denied to him the benefit of the provision of the 5th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, that no person should be compelled, in any criminal case, to be a witness against himself, and also that he has been deprived of the benefit of the 14th Amendment. We are bound by the decision of the supreme court of Kansas that the statute in question violated no provision of the Constitution of that state, and that it was a valid statute so far as that instrument was concerned. This doctrine is familiar, and a few of the many cases upon the subject are cited in Smiley v. Kansas, 196 U. S. 447, 49 L. ed. 546, 25 Sup. Ct. Rep. 289.

It has been so frequently held as not to warrant the citation of many authorities, that the first ten amendments to the Federal Constitution operate on the national government only, and were not intended to, and did not, limit the powers of the states in respect to their own people. Spies v. Illinois (Ex parte Spies) 123 U. S. 131, 31 L. ed. 80, 8 Sup. Ct. Rep. 21; Brown v. New Jersey, 175 U. S. 172, 174, 44 L. ed. 119, 120, 20 Sup. Ct. Rep. 77. That portion of the 5th Amendment, therefore, already cited, has no application in a proceeding like this, in a state court, under a state statute.

The plaintiff in error, however, contends that the denial of his claim of right to refuse to answer the questions was in violation of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, and deprived him of his liberty without due process of law. This, in reality, is the sole question in the case. He contends that the immunity granted by the state statute, while enforcing the giving of testimony which may incriminate the party interrogated, as a violator of that statute, is not (and could not be) broad enough to provide immunity from prosecution under the Federal antitrust statute, and that compelling him to answer questions under such circumstances, which might incriminate him as a...

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