Kaplan v. Bowker

Citation131 N.E.2d 372,333 Mass. 455
PartiesJacob J. KAPLAN and others v. Philip BOWKER and others. . Suffolk
Decision Date19 January 1956
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts

Richard Wait, B. Loring Young, Boston, for petitioners.

Thomas H. Bresnahan, Springfield, for respondents.


QUA, Chief Justice.

By c. 123 of the Resolves of 1954 and again by c. 52 of the Resolves of 1955, the General Court revived and continued a special commission, consisting of two members of the Senate, three of the House, and two persons appointed by the Governor, which was originally established by c. 89 of the Resolves of 1953 "for the purpose of conducting an investigation and study of the extent, character and objects of communism and subversive activities and related matters within the commonwealth; the diffusion within the commonwealth of subversive and un-American propaganda that is instigated from foreign countries, or of a domestic origin, and attacks the principle of the form of government as guaranteed by our constitution and all other questions in relation thereto that would aid the general court in enacting any necessary remedial legislation." The resolve directs the commission in making its investigation to consider all the aspects of such activities, including educational, governmental, industrial, and political activities. There are included in the resolve various provisions not necessary to be stated in full designed to clarify the subject under investigation and to secure to witnesses at hearings before the commission the advice of counsel and the right to make statements in their own behalf which shall become part of the records of the hearings.

The resolve in its present form contains these sentences, "Said commission shall report its findings to the general court at such time or times as it may deem advisable, but in any event shall file a final report not later than the first day of February, nineteen hundred and fifty-six. Such report shall include the name and all other identifying data available to the commission, of any individual, concerning whom, the commission, during the course of the investigation, has received creditable evidence that such individual was or is a member of the communist party, a communist or a subversive."

The proceeding now before us is a petition for a writ of mandamus brought against the members of the commission by five members of the bar who allege that they are citizens, voters and taxpayers in the Commonwealth, interested in the execution of the laws and in the enforcement of the Constitution; that it is a felony to advocate the overthrow by force or violence or other unlawful means of the government of the Commonwealth or of the United States, G.L. (Ter.Ed.) c. 264, § 11, as appearing in St.1954, c. 584, § 1, or to be a member of the Communist Party or to engage in the communist or subversive activities described in G.L. (Ter.Ed.) c. 264, §§ 16-19 and 21-23, inserted by St.1951, c. 805, § 3, and as amended by St.1954, c. 584, §§ 3-5; that the inclusion of the names in the commission's report would constitute a determination that there is "creditable evidence" that the persons named are guilty of a felony and would be a legislative declaration of a felony in violation of art. 25 of the Declaration of Rights and would be an exercise of executive or judicial power in violation of art. 30 of the Declaration of Rights and a deprivation of liberty of an indeterminable number of citizens without due process of law. The prayer is that the respondents be commanded to refrain from including in any report the name or other identifying data of any individual concerning whom the commission determines that it has received "creditable evidence" that such individual was or is a member of the Communist Party, a communist or a subversive, "except when if ever the inclusion of the name of any such individual is necessary for the purpose of recommending proposed legislation."

Nowhere in the petition is there any allegation that the commission has been or is investigating any of the petitioners; or that any of them has been called upon to testify before it or has been approached in any way by or in behalf of the commission; or that any of them has any reason to expect that his name will be mentioned by the commission; or that any of them has engaged in any activities that might bring him to the notice of the commission. In their brief they expressly disclaim that they individually or collectively suffer any wrong peculiar to themselves and assert that they bring this petition as members of the general public, taxpayers, voters, and citizens of the Commonwealth "fairly representative of their millions of fellows every one of whom is harmed through exercise of arrogated power by the Legislature," and that as members of the bar they are under special obligation to assert rights which they conceive they share with other members of the public who may be less conscious of the nature of the threatened infringement of those rights. Their contentions are that the resolve is unconstitutional in its mandate to the commission to report a "black list" of persons concerning whom the commission has received "creditable evidence" that they are or were communists, members of the Communist Party, or "subversives"; that no standard is provided for determining what is "creditable evidence" or who is a subversive; that the door is left open for determinations based upon hearsay without any of the safeguards of due process; that (as the petitioners assert) such list cannot be of any assistance to the General Court in enacting remedial legislation; that the resolve violates art. 25 of the Declaration of Rights, which forbids the Legislature to declare any subject guilty of treason or felony and art. 30 relative to the separation of powers; that it is a bill of attainder; and that the inclusion of the "black list" is an injury to every person within the jurisdiction.

The single justice of this court before whom the case first came ruled as matter of law that the petitioners have no standing to maintain this petition and entered judgment dismissing it. The petitioners appeal. We think the ruling was right.

From an early day it has been an established principle in this Commonwealth that only persons who have themselves suffered, or who are in danger of suffering, legal harm can compel the courts to assume the difficult and delicate duty of passing upon the validity of the acts of a cordinate branch of the government. Many instances of the statement or the application of this principle are collected in the footnote. 1 This rule is by no means peculiar to this jurisdiction. It is generally accepted elsewhere. Tyler v. Judges of the Court of Registration, 179 U.S. 405, 21 S.Ct. 206, 45 L.Ed. 252. City of Lampasas v. Bell, 180 U.S. 276, 21 S.Ct. 368, 45 L.Ed. 527. Smith v. State of Indiana, 191 U.S. 138, 148-149, 24 S.Ct. 51, 48 L.Ed. 125. Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Mellon, 262 U.S. 447, 488-489, 43 S.Ct. 597, 67 L.Ed. 1078. Columbus & Greenville Railway Co. v. Miller, 283 U.S. 96, 99-100, 51 S.Ct. 392, 75 L.Ed. 861. Perkins v. Lukens Steel Co., 310 U.S. 113, 125-132, 60 S.Ct. 869, 84 L.Ed. 1108. Doremus v. Board of Education of the Borough of Hawthorne, 342 U.S. 429, 72 S.Ct. 394, 96 L.Ed. 475. 16 C.J.S., Constitutional Law, § 76, and cases cited. 11 Am.Jur., Constitutional Law, § 111, and cases cited. It may indeed be regarded as hardly more than an illustration of the general proposition that parties to actions must be persons interested in the subject matter. 67 C.J.S., Parties, § 6, and cases cited.

But the petitioners seek to bring themselves within another principle of law which may sometimes cut under and form an exception to the principle that only a party injured can bring proceedings to determine the constitutionality of a. statute. This is the principle that where a public officer owes a specific duty to the public to perform some act or service not due the government as such or to administer some law for the public benefit which he is refusing or failing to perform or administer any member of the public may compel by mandamus the performance of the duty required by law. Perhaps the leading case in this Commonwealth is Brewster v. Sherman, 195 Mass. 222, 80 N.E. 821. In such cases the petitioner is regarded as acting under the public right to have the particular thing or series of things done which the law requires shall be done. Some of the cases add the qualification that no other method of enforcement be available. We believe we have examined every case in this Commonwealth in which this...

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