Wong Yang Sung v. Grath

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation70 S.Ct. 445,94 L.Ed. 616,339 U.S. 33
Docket NumberNo. 154,154
PartiesWONG YANG SUNG v. McGRATH, Attorney General of the United States, et al
Decision Date20 February 1950

339 U.S. 33
70 S.Ct. 445
94 L.Ed. 616


McGRATH, Attorney General of the United States, et al.

No. 154.
Argued Dec. 6, 1949.
Decided Feb. 20, 1950.
Judgment Modified March 13, 1950.

See 339 U.S. 908, 70 S.Ct. 564.

Page 34

Mr. Irving Jaffe, Washington, D.C., for petitioner.

Mr. Robert W. Ginnane, Washington, D.C., for respondents.

[Argument of Counsel from page 34 intentionally omitted]

Page 35

Mr. Justice JACKSON delivered the opinion of the Court.

This habeas corpus proceeding involves a single ultimate question—whether administrative hearings in deportation cases must conform to requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act of June 11, 1946, 60 Stat. 237, 5 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq., 5 U.S.C.A. § 1001 et seq.

Wong Yang Sung, native and citizen of China, was arrested by immigration officials on a charge of being unlawfully in the United States through having overstayed shore leave as one of a shipping crew. A hearing was held before an immigrant inspector who recommended deportation. The Acting Commissioner approved; and the Board of Immigration Appeals affirmed.

Wong Yang Sung then sought release from custody by habeas corpus proceedings in District Court for the District of Columbia, upon the sole ground that the administrative hearing was not conducted in conformity with §§ 5 and 11 of the Administrative Procedure Act.1

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The Government admitted noncompliance, but asserted that the Act did not apply. The court, after hearing, discharged the writ and remanded the prisoner to custody, holding the Administrative Procedure Act inapplicable to deportation hearings. 80 F.Supp. 235. The Court of Appeals affirmed. 84 U.S.App.D.C. 419, 174 F.2d 158. Prisoner's petition for certiorari was not opposed by the Government and, because the question presented has obvious importance in the administration of the immigration laws, we granted review. 338 U.S. 812, 70 S.Ct. 66.


The Administrative Procedure Act of June 11, 1946, supra, is a new, basic and comprehensive regulation of procedures in many agencies, more than a few of which can advance arguments that its generalities should not or do not include them. Determination of questions of its coverage may well be approached through consideration of its purposes as disclosed by its background.

Multiplication of federal administrative agencies and expansion of their functions to include adjudications

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which have serious impact on private rights has been one of the dramatic legal developments of the past half-century.2 Partly from restriction by statute, partly from judicial self-restraint, and partly by necessity—from the nature of their multitudinous and semilegislative or executive tasks—the decisions of administrative tribunals were accorded considerable finality, and especially with respect to fact finding.3 The conviction developed, particularly within the legal profession, that this power was not sufficiently safeguarded and sometimes was put to arbitrary and biased use.4

Concern over administrative impartiality and response to growing discontent was reflected in Congress as early as 1929, when Senator Norris introduced a bill to create

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a separate administrative court.5 Fears and dissatisfactions increased as tribunals grew in number and jurisdiction, and a succession of bills offering various remedies appeared in Congress.6 Inquiries into the practices of state agencies, which tended to parallel or follow the federal pattern, were instituted in several states, and some studies noteworthy for thoroughness, impartiality and vision resulted.7

The Executive Branch of the Federal Government also became concerned as to whether the structure and procedure of these bodies was conducive to fairness in the administrative process. President Roosevelt's Committee on Administrative Management in 1937 recommended complete separation of adjudicating functions and personnel from those having to do with investigation or prosecution.8 The President early in 1939 also directed the Attorney General to name 'a committee of eminent lawyers, jurists, scholars, and administrators to review the entire administrative process in the various

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departments of the executive Government and to recommend improvements, including the suggestion of any needed legislation.'9

So strong was the demand for reform, however, that Congress did not await the Committee's report but passed what was known as the Walter-Logan bill, a comprehensive and rigid prescription of standardized procedures for administrative agencies.10 This bill was vetoed by President Roosevelt December 18, 1940,11 and the veto was sustained by the House.12 But the President's veto message made no denial of the need for reform. Rather it pointed out that the task of the Committee, whose objective was 'to suggest improvements to make the process more workable and more just,' had proved 'unexpectedly complex.' The President said, 'I should desire to await their report and recommendations before approving any measure in this complicated field.'13

The committee devided in its views and both the majority and the minority submitted bills14 which were introduced in 1941. A subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee held exhaustive hearings on three proposed

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measures, 15 but, before the gathering storm of national emergency and war, consideration of the problem was put aside. Though bills on the subject reappeared in 1944,16 they did not attract much attention.

The McCarran-Sumners bill, which evolved into the present Act, was introduced in 1945.17 Its consideration and hearing, especially of agency interests, was painstaking. All administrative agencies were invited to submit their views in writing. A tentative revised bill was then prepared and interested parties again were invited to submit criticisms.18 The Attorney General named representatives of the Department of Justice to canvass the agencies and report their criticisms, and submitted a favorable report on the bill as finally revised.19 It passed both Houses without opposition and was signed by President Truman June 11, 1946.20

The Act thus represents a long period of study and strife; it settles long-continued and hard-fought contentions, and enacts a formula upon which opposing social and political forces have come to rest. It contains many compromises and generalities and, no doubt, some am-

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biguities. Experience may reveal defects. But it would be a disservice to our form of government and to the administrative process itself if the courts should fail, so far as the terms of the Act warrant, to give effect to its remedial purposes where the evils it was aimed at appear.


Of the several administrative evils sought to be cured or minimized, only two are particularly relevant to issues before us today. One purpose was to introduce greater uniformity of procedure and standardization of administrative practice among the diverse agencies whose customs had departed widely from each other.21 We pursue this no further than to note that any exception we may find to its applicability would tend to defeat this purpose.

More fundamental, however, was the purpose to curtail and change the practice of embodying in one person or agency the duties of prosecutor and judge. The President's Committee on Administrative Management voiced in 1937 the theme which, with variations in language, was reiterated throughout the legislative history of the Act. The Committee's report, which President Roosevelt transmitted to Congress with his approval as 'a great document of permanent importance,'22 said:

'* * * the independent commission is obliged to carry on judicial functions under conditions which

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threaten the impartial performance of that judicial work. The discretionary work of the administrator is merged with that of the judge. Pressures and influences properly enough directed toward officers responsible for formulating and administering policy constitute an unwholesome atmosphere in which to adjudicate private rights. But the mixed duties of the commissions render escape from these subversive influences impossible.

'Furthermore, the same men are obliged to serve both as prosecutors and as judges. This not only undermines judicial fairness; it weakens public confidence in that fairness. Commission decisions affecting private rights and conduct lie under the suspicion of being rationalizations of the preliminary findings which the commission, in the role of prosecutor, presented to itself.' Administrative Management in the Government of the United States, Report of the President's Committee on Administrative Management, 36—37 (1937).

The Committee therefore recommended a redistribution of functions within the regulatory agencies. '(I)t would be divided into an administrative section and a judicial section' and the administrative section 'would formulate rules, initiate action, investigate complaints * * *' and the judicial section 'would sit as an impartial, independent body to make decisions affecting the public interest and private rights upon the basis of the records and findings presented to it by the administrative section.' Id. at 37.

Another study was made by a distinguished committee named by the Secretary of Labor, whose jurisdiction at the time included the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Some of the committee's observations have relevancy to the procedure under examination here. It said:

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'The inspector who presides over the formal hearing is in many respects comparable to a trial judge. He has, at a minimum, the function of determining—subject to objection on the alien's behalf what goes into the written record upon which decision ultimately is to be based. Under the existing practice he has also the function of counsel representing the moving party—he does not merely admit evidence against the alien; he has the...

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