Samuel Gompers v. United States 1914

Citation34 S.Ct. 693,58 L.Ed. 1115,233 U.S. 604
Decision Date11 May 1914
Docket NumberNos. 640 and 574,s. 640 and 574
PartiesSAMUEL GOMPERS, John Mitchell, and Frank Morrison, Plffs. in Err., Appts., and Petitioners, v. UNITED STATES. Argued January 7 and 8, 1914. Re
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Messrs. Alton B. Parker, Jackson H. Ralston, Frederick L. Siddons, and William E. Richardson for Gompers et al.

Messrs. J. J. Darlington, Daniel Davenport, Clarence R. Wilson, and James M. Beck for defendant in error and appellee.

Mr. Justice Holmes delivered the opinion of the court;

These are proceedings for alleged criminal contempts in the matter that was before this court in Gompers v. Buck's Stove & Range Co. 221 U. S. 418, 55 L. ed. 797, 34 L.R.A. (N.S.) 874, 31 Sup. Ct. Rep. 492. In that case the proceedings instituted by the Buck's Stove & Range Company to punish the petitioners were ordered to be dismissed, but without prejudice to the power of the supreme court of the District to punish contempt, if any, committed against it. The decision was rendered on May 15, 1911, and the next day the supreme court of the District appointed a committee to inquire whether there was reasonable cause to believe the plaintiffs in error guilty, in wilfully violating an injunction issued by that court on December 18, 1907, and, if year, to present and prosecute charges to that effect. The inquiry was directed solely with a view to punishment for past acts, not to secure obedience for the future; and to avoid repetition it will be understood that all that we have to say concerns proceedings of this sort only, and further, only proceedings for such contempt not committed in the presence of the court.

The committee, on June 26, 1911, reported and charged that the parties severally were guilty of specified acts in violation of the injunction, being the same acts of which they had been found guilty by the supreme court in the former case. Rules to show cause were issued on the same day. The defendants pleaded the statute of limitations, Rev. Stat. § 1044, U. S. Comp. Stat. 1901, p. 725, as to most of the charges, and not guilty. There was a trial, the statute of limitations was held inapplicable, and the defendants were found guilty and sentenced to imprisonment for terms of different lengths, subject to exceptions which by agreement was embodied in a single bill. The court of appeals reduced the sentences to imprisonment for thirty days in the case of Gompers and fines of $500 for each of the other two. 40 App. D. C. 293. The defendants brought a writ of error and an appeal to this court, and also petitioned for a writ of certiorari. Of course, an appeal does not lie, nor does a writ of error, but the writ of certiorari is granted. The judges of the supreme court also petitioned for a writ of certiorari, but as the case will be disposed of on the first-mentioned petition, the other will be denied.

The injunction, subsequently held too broad, not only forbade the defendants to combine to obstruct the business of the Buck's Stove & Range Company, or to declare or threaten any boycott against it (such a boycott already having been declared), but also to publish any statement calling attention of any body to any such boycott, or any statement of like effect, tending to any injury of the company's business. This decree, although made on December 18, did not become operative until December 23, 1907. Before going to the court of appeals the injunction in substantially the same form was made permanent on March 23, 1908. It may be assumed for the purposes of our decision that the evidence not only warranted but required a finding that the defendants were guilty of some, at least, of the violations of this decree that were charged against them, and so we come at once to consider the statute of limitations, which is their only real defense. A preliminary objection was urged, to be sure, that the question of the validity of that defense was not reserved, but there is nothing in it. The bar was pleaded, there was a motion to dismiss on that ground for want of a replication, there was a decision that the statute did not apply to contempts, and the counsel for the plaintiffs in error stated at the trial that there was one general exception presented on their behalf with regard to that. We cannot doubt that it was perfectly understood, or that the record shows that the plaintiffs in error preserved all their rights.

The statute provides that 'no person shall be prosecuted, tried, or punished for any offense not capital, except . . . , unless the indictment is found or the information is instituted within three years next after such offense shall have been committed.' Rev. Stat. § 1044, act of April 13, 1876, chap. 56, 19 Stat. at L. 32, U. S. Comp. Stat. 1901, p. 725. The plaintiffs in error treat these proceedings as having begun on May 16, 1911, when the supreme court directed an inquiry. They certainly did not begin before that date; so that, if the statute applies, contempts prior to May 16, 1908, would be barred. It is argued with force that the inquiry was directed only to breaches of the preliminary injunction, which expired by its own terms upon the making of the final decree on March 23, 1908, and that therefore everything legitimately before the court happened more than three years before. But as the report mentioned the final decree, and charged a few acts later than March 23, though mostly rather unimportant, and as the order to show cause referred to a violation of the injunctions, in the plural, it perhaps would savor of a technicality that we should be loath to apply on either side, if we did not deal with all that is charged.

The charges against Gompers are: (1) hurrying the publication of the January number of the American Federationist, and distributing many copies after the injunction was known and before it went into effect, in which number the Buck's Stove & Range Company was included in the 'We don't patronize' list; (2) circulating other copies in January, 1908; (3) on and after December 23, 1907, circulating another document to the like effect with comments, some of which were lawful criticism, but others of which suggested that the injunction left the members of labor oganizations free to continue their boycott; (4) publishing in February, 1908, a copy of the decree with the suggestion that those who violated the injunction outside of the District could not be punished unless they came within it; (5) in January and February, 1908, publishing in conjunction with the other defendants a paper appealing for financial aid, commenting on the injunction as invading the liberty of the press and free speech, and reprinting the beforementioned comments and suggestions; (6) in March, 1908, again suggesting that no law compelled the purchase of a Buck stove; (7) in April, 1908, after the final decree, reiterating the same suggestion in the American Federationist; (8) in April, 1908, repeating similar suggestions by transparent innuendo in a public address; (9) again repeating them in another address, on or about May 1; (10) and again in the July issue of the American Federationist; (11) publishing in the September Federationist an editorial characterizing the injunction as an invasion of constitutional freedom (which hardly seems to exceed lawful comment unless on the ground that the case was not finished, although mistaken in its...

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