United States v. Harriss, No. 32

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtWARREN
Citation74 S.Ct. 808,347 U.S. 612,98 L.Ed. 989
PartiesUNITED STATES v. HARRISS et al
Decision Date07 June 1954
Docket NumberNo. 32

347 U.S. 612
74 S.Ct. 808
98 L.Ed. 989
UNITED STATES

v.

HARRISS et al.

No. 32.
Argued Oct. 19, 1953.
Decided June 7, 1954.

Page 613

Mr. Oscar H. Davis, Washington, D.C., for appellant.

Messrs. Burton K. Wheeler, Washington, D.C., Hugh Howell, Atlanta, Ga., for appellee.

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

The appellees were charged by information with violation of the Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act, 60 Stat. 812, 839, 2 U.S.C. §§ 261—270, 2 U.S.C.A. §§ 261—270. Relying on its previous

Page 614

decision in National Association of Manufacturers v. McGrath, D.C., 103 F.Supp. 510, vacated as moot, 344 U.S. 804, 73 S.Ct. 313, 97 L.Ed. 627, the District Court dismissed the information on the ground that the Act is unconstitutional. The case is here on direct appeal under the Criminal Appeals Act, 18 U.S.C. § 3731, 18 U.S.C.A. § 3731.

Seven counts of the information are laid under § 305, which requires designated reports to Congress from every person 'receiving any contributions or expending any money' for the purpose of influencing the passage or defeat of any legislation by Congress.1 One such count charges the National Farm Committee, a Texas corpora-

Page 615

tion, with failure to report the solicitation and receipt of contributions to influence the passage of legislation which would cause a rise in the price of agricultural commodities and commodity futures and the defeat of legislation which would cause a decline in those prices. The remaining six counts under § 305 charge defendants Moore and Harriss with failure to report expenditures having the same single purpose. Some of the alleged expenditures consist of the payment of compensation to others to communicate face-to-face with members of Congress, at public functions and committee hearings, concerning legislation affecting agricultural prices; the other alleged expenditures relate largely to the costs of a campaign to induce various interested groups and individuals to communicate by letter with members of Congress on such legislation.

The other two counts in the information are laid under § 308, which requires any person 'who shall engage himself for pay or for any consideration for the purpose of attempting to influence the passage or defeat of any legislation' to register with Congress and to make specified disclosures.2 These two counts allege in considerable

Page 616

detail that defendants Moore and Linder were hired to express certain views to Congress as to agricultural prices or to cause others to do so, for the purpose of attempting to influence the passage of legislation which would cause a rise in the price of agricultural commodities and commodity futures and a defeat of legislation which would cause a decline in such prices; and that pursuant to this undertaking, without having registered as required by

Page 617

s 308, they arranged to have members of Congress contacted on behalf of these views, either directly by their own emissaries or through an artificially stimulated letter campaign.3

We are not concerned here with the sufficiency of the information as a criminal pleading. Our review under the Criminal Appeals Act is limited to a decision on the alleged 'invalidity' of the statute on which the information is based.4 In making this decision, we judge the statute on its face. See United States v. Petrillo, 332 U.S. 1, 6, 12, 67 S.Ct. 1538, 1541, 1544, 91 L.Ed. 1877. The 'invalidity' of the Lobbying Act is asserted on three grounds: (1) that §§ 305, 307, and 308 are too vague and indefinite to meet the requirements of due process; (2) that §§ 305 and 308 violate the First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the right to petition the Government; (3) that the penalty provision of § 310(b) violates the right of the people under the First Amendment to petition the Government.

I.

The constitutional requirement of definiteness is violated by a criminal statute that fails to give a person of ordinary intelligence fair notice that his contemplated conduct is forbidden by the statute. The underlying principle is that no man shall be held criminally responsible for conduct which he could not reasonably understand to be proscribed.5

Page 618

On the other hand, if the general class of offenses to which the statute is directed is plainly within its terms, the statute will not be struck down as vague even though marginal cases could be put where doubts might arise. United States v. Petrillo, 332 U.S. 1, 7, 67 S.Ct. 1538, 1541. Cf. Jordan v. De George, 341 U.S. 223, 231, 71 S.Ct. 703, 707, 95 L.Ed. 886. And if this general class of offenses can be made constitutionally definite by a reasonable construction of the statute, this Court is under a duty to give the statute that construction. This was the course adopted in Screws v. United States, 325 U.S. 91, 65 S.Ct. 1031, 89 L.Ed. 1495, upholding the definiteness of the Civil Rights Act.6

The same course is appropriate here. The key section of the Lobbying Act is § 307, entitled 'Persons to Whom Applicable'. Section 307 provides:

'The provisions of this title shall apply to any person (except a political committee as defined in

Page 619

the Federal Corrupt Practices Act, and duly organized State or local committees of a political party), who by himself, or through any agent or employee or other persons in any manner whatsoever, directly or indirectly, solicits, collects, or receives money or any other thing of value to be used principally to aid, or the principal purpose of which person is to aid, in the accomplishment of any of the following purposes:

'(a) The passage or defeat of any legislation by the Congress of the United States.

'(b) To influence, directly or indirectly, the passage or defeat of any legislation by the Congress of the United States.'

This section modifies the substantive provisions of the Act, including § 305 and § 308. In other words, unless a 'person' falls within the category established by § 307, the disclosure requirements of § 305 and § 308 are inapplicable.7 Thus coverage under the Act is limited to those persons (except for the specified political committees) who solicit, collect, or receive contributions of money or other thing of value, and then only if the principal purpose of either the persons or the contributions is to aid in the accomplishment of the aims set forth in § 307(a) and (b). In any event, the solicitation, collection, or receipt of money or other thing of value is a prerequisite to coverage under the Act.

The Government urges a much broader construction—namely, that under § 305 a person must report his expenditures to influence legislation even though he does not solicit, collect, or receive contributions as provided in

Page 620

§ 307.8 Such a construction, we believe, would do violence to the title and language of § 307 as well as its legislative history.9 If the construction urged by the Government is to become law, that is for Congress to accomplish by further legislation.

We now turn to the alleged vagueness of the purposes set forth in § 307(a) and (b). As in United States v. Rumely, 345 U.S. 41, 47, 73 S.Ct. 543, 546, 97 L.Ed. 770, which involved the interpretation of similar language, we believe this language should be construed to refer only to "lobbying in its commonly accepted sense"—to direct communication with members of Congress on pending or proposed federal legislation. The legislative history of the Act makes clear that, at the very least, Congress sought disclosure of such direct pressures, exerted by the lobbyist themselves or through their hirelings or through an artificially stimulated letter campaign.10 It is likewise clear that Congress would have

Page 621

intended the Act to operate on this narrower basis, even if a broader application to organizations seeking to propagandize the general public were not permissible.11

There remains for our consideration the meaning of 'the principal purpose' and 'to be used principally to

Page 622

aid.' The legislative history of the Act indicates that the term 'principal' was adopted merely to exclude from the scope of § 307 those contributions and persons having only an 'incidental' purpose of influencing legislation.12 Conversely, the 'principal purpose' requirement does not exclude a contribution which in substantial part is to be used to influence legislation through direct communication with Congress or a person whose activities in substantial part are directed to influencing legislation through direct communication with Congress.13 If it were otherwise—if an organization, for example, were exempted

Page 623

because lobbying was only one of its main activities—the Act would in large measure be reduced to a mere exhortation against abuse of the legislative process. In construing the Act narrowly to avoid constitutional doubts, we must also avoid a construction that would seriously impair the effectiveness of the Act in coping with the problem it was designed to alleviate.

To summarize, therefore, there are three prerequisites to coverage under § 307: (1) the 'person' must have solicited, collected, or received contributions; (2) one of the main purposes of such 'person,' or one of the main purposes of such contributions, must have been to influence the passage or defeat of legislation by Congress; (3) the intended method of accomplishing this purpose must have been through direct communication with members of Congress. And since § 307 modifies the substantive provisions of the Act, our construction of § 307 will of necessity also narrow the scope of § 305 and § 308, the substantive provisions underlying the information in this case. Thus § 305 is limited to those persons who are covered by § 307; and when so covered, they must report all contributions and expenditures having the purpose of attempting to influence legislation through direct communication with...

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1542 practice notes
  • Part III
    • United States
    • Federal Register March 11, 2004
    • March 11, 2004
    ...in some incidental activity that causes them to exceed the $1,000 expenditure or contribution thresholds. In United States v. Harriss, 347 U.S. 612, 621-22 (1954), the Supreme Court interpreted the meaning of the term ``principal purpose'' in the Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act. That sta......
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    • Federal Register March 11, 2004
    • March 11, 2004
    ...in some incidental activity that causes them to exceed the $1,000 expenditure or contribution thresholds. In United States v. Harriss, 347 U.S. 612, 621-22 (1954), the Supreme Court interpreted the meaning of the term ``principal purpose'' in the Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act. That sta......
  • United States v. Kelly, No. 16-10460.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • October 30, 2017
    ...shall be held criminally responsible for conduct which he could not reasonably understand to be proscribed." United States v. Harriss , 347 U.S. 612, 617, 74 S.Ct. 808, 98 L.Ed. 989 (1954). The rule of lenity "only applies if, after considering text, structure, history, and purpose, there r......
  • Buckley v. Valeo, No. 75-1061
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    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • August 29, 1975
    ...Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act against attack on the grounds of denial of freedom of speech and association. United States v. Harriss, 347 U.S. 612, 625, 74 S.Ct. 808, 98 L.Ed. 989 (1954). From the repeal of the Federal Corrupt Practices Act in 1972 until the effective date of the FECAA......
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1524 cases
  • U.S. v. Angiulo, Nos. 86-1331
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — First Circuit
    • November 7, 1989
    ...give a person of ordinary intelligence fair notice that his contemplated conduct is forbidden by the statute." United States v. Harriss, 347 U.S. 612, 617, 74 S.Ct. 808, 812, 98 L.Ed. 989 (1954). Thus, we must analyze RICO's "pattern of racketeering activity" element to determine if it is s......
  • United States v. Kelly, No. 16-10460.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • October 30, 2017
    ...shall be held criminally responsible for conduct which he could not reasonably understand to be proscribed." United States v. Harriss , 347 U.S. 612, 617, 74 S.Ct. 808, 98 L.Ed. 989 (1954). The rule of lenity "only applies if, after considering text, structure, history, and purpose, there r......
  • Buckley v. Valeo, No. 75-1061
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • August 29, 1975
    ...Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act against attack on the grounds of denial of freedom of speech and association. United States v. Harriss, 347 U.S. 612, 625, 74 S.Ct. 808, 98 L.Ed. 989 (1954). From the repeal of the Federal Corrupt Practices Act in 1972 until the effective date of the FECAA......
  • Chula Vista Citizens for Jobs & Fair Competition v. Norris, No. 12–55726.
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    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • April 3, 2015
    ...plainly within the area of [legislative] power and is designed to safeguard a vital [governmental] interest.” United States v. Harriss, 347 U.S. 612, 626, 74 S.Ct. 808, 98 L.Ed. 989 (1954). So too, here the hypothetical possibility that someone somewhere might be deterred from proposing an ......
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8 books & journal articles
  • Table of authorities
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    • Introduction to environmental law: cases and materials on water pollution control - 2d Edition
    • July 23, 2017
    ...937 United States v. Hamel, 551 F.2d 107 (6th Cir. 1977) ............................................... 201 United States v. Harris, 347 U.S. 612 (1954) ............................................................. 317 United States v. Hayashi, 22 F.3d 859, 24 ELR 20985 (9th Cir. 1994)..........
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    ...ordinary intelligence fair notice that his [or her] contemplated conduct is forbidden by the statute." (quoting United States v. Harriss, 347 U.S. 612, 617 (1954))); id. at 342 ("A 'person of ordinary intelligence/ a 'person of common intelligence,' 'the common world'--those are the phrases......
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    ...U.S. 62 (1954); Remmer v. United States, 347 U.S. 227 (1954); United States v. Dixon, 347 U.S. 381 (1954); and United States v. Harriss, 347 U.S. 612 Important constitutional questions were raised in United States v. Five Gambling Devices, 346 U.S. 441 (1953); Walder v. United States, 347 U......
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