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February 4, 1935



Hughes, Van Devanter, Brandeis, Sutherland, Butler, Stone, Roberts, Cardozo; McReynolds took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

Author: Brandeis

[ 294 U.S. Page 143]

 MR. JUSTICE BRANDEIS delivered the opinion of the Court.

This petition for a writ of habeas corpus was brought in the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia by William P. MacCracken, Jr., against Chesley W. Jurney, the Sergeant-at-Arms of the Senate of the United States. The writ issued; the body of the petitioner was produced before that court; and the case was then heard on demurrer to the petition. The trial court discharged the writ and dismissed the petition. The Court of Appeals, two justices dissenting, reversed that judgment and remanded the case to the Supreme Court of the District with directions to discharge the prisoner from custody. 63 App. D.C. 342; 72 F.2d 560. This Court granted certiorari because of the importance of the question presented.

The petition alleges that MacCracken was, on February 12, 1934, arrested, and is held, under a warrant issued on February 9, 1934, after MacCracken had respectfully declined to appear before the bar of the Senate in response to a citation served upon him pursuant to Resolution 172, adopted by the Senate on February 5, 1934. The Resolution provides:

[ 294 U.S. Page 144]

     "Resolved, That the President of the Senate issue a citation directing William P. MacCracken, Jr., L. H. Brittin, Gilbert Givvin, and Harris M. Hanshue to show cause why they should not be punished for contempt of the Senate, on account of the destruction and removal of certain papers, files, and memorandums from the files of William P. MacCracken, Jr., after a subpoena had been served upon William P. MacCracken, Jr., as shown by the report of the Special Senate Committee Investigating Ocean and Air Mail Contracts."

It is conceded that the Senate was engaged in an enquiry which it had the constitutional power to make; that the Committee*fn1 had authority to require the production of papers as a necessary incident of the power of legislation; and that the Senate had the power to coerce their production by means of arrest. McGrain v. Daugherty, 273 U.S. 135. No question is raised as to the propriety of the scope of the subpoena duces tecum, or as to the regularity of any of the proceedings which preceded the arrest. The claim of privilege hereinafter referred to is no longer an issue. MacCracken's sole contention is that the Senate was without power to arrest him with a view to punishing him, because the act complained of -- the alleged destruction and removal of the papers after service of the subpoena -- was "the past commission of a completed act which prior to the arrest and the proceedings to punish had reached such a stage of finality that it could not longer affect the proceedings of the Senate or any Committee thereof, and which, and the effects of which, had been undone long before the arrest."

The petition occupies, with exhibits, 100 pages of the printed record in this Court; but the only additional averments

[ 294 U.S. Page 145]

     essential to the decision of the question presented are, in substance, these: The Senate had appointed the Special Committee to make "a full, complete and detailed inquiry into all existing contracts entered into by the Postmaster General for the carriage of air mail and ocean mail." MacCracken had been served, on January 31, 1934, with a subpoena duces tecum to appear "instanter" before the Committee and to bring all books of account and papers "relating to air mail and ocean mail contracts." The witness appeared on that day; stated that he was a lawyer, member of the firm of MacCracken & Lee, with offices in the District; that he was ready to produce all papers which he lawfully could; but that many of those in his possession were privileged communications between himself and corporations or individuals for whom he had acted as attorney; that he could not lawfully produce such papers without the client first having waived the privilege; and that, unless he secured such a waiver, he must exercise his own judgment as to what papers were within the privilege. He gave, however, to the Committee the names of these clients; stated the character of services rendered for each; and, at the suggestion of the Committee, telegraphed to each asking whether consent to disclose confidential communications would be given. From some of the clients he secured immediately unconditional consent; and on February 1, produced all the papers relating to the business of the clients who had so consented.

On February 2, before the Committee had decided whether the production of all the papers should be compelled despite the claims of privilege, MacCracken again appeared and testified as follows: On February 1, he personally permitted Givven, a representative of Western Air Express, to examine, without ...

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