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UNITED STATES v. BRYAN

May 21, 1947

UNITED STATES
v.
BRYAN and three other cases



The opinion of the court was delivered by: HOLTZOFF

In January 1945 the House of Representatives of the United States, by House Resolution No. 5, 79th Congress, 1st Session, created a Committee known as the Committee on Un-American Activities, which was authorized to make investigations of '(1) the extent, character, and objects of un-American propaganda activities in the United States, (2) the diffusion within the United States 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 (3) all other questions in relation thereto that would aid Congress in any necessary remedial legislation.'

The defendants Richard Morford, George Marshall and Helen Bryan, have been indicted under U.S.C.A. Title 2, § 192, *fn1" for failure to comply with subpoenas duces tecum issued by the Committee and directing them to produce certain records before the Committee.

 The indictment against Richard Morford alleges that he was subpoenaed to produce 'all books, records, papers and documents showing all the receipts and disbursements of money by the National Council of American-Soviet Friendship, Inc., and all correspondence, memoranda and communications with any and all persons, together with a complete list of all affiliated organizations, for the year 1945.'

 The indictment against the defendant George Marshall alleges that he was subpoenaed to produce 'all books, records, documents and correspondence pertaining to the National Federation for Constitutional Liberties relating to the solicitation and disbursement of funds with a list of contributors.' This indictment also charges the defendant Marshall with refusal to answer questions as to whether he had connection with an organization known as the Marshall Foundation.

 The indictment against the defendant Helen R. Bryan alleges that she was subpoenaed to produce 'all books, ledgers, records and papers relating to the receipt and disbursement of money by or on account of the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee or any subsidiary or subcommittee thereof, together with all correspondence and memoranda of communications by any means whatsoever with persons in foreign countries for the period from January 1, 1945, to March 29, 1946.'

 The indictment against the defendants Edward K. Barsky and others consists of two counts. The first count avers that they were members of the Executive Board of the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee, and charges them with a conspiracy to defraud the United States by encouraging the defendant Helen R. Bryan to refuse to produce records before the Committee; and further with a conspiracy to violate U.S.C.A. Title 2, § 192.

 The second count of this indictment charges the defendants with the substantive offense of failure to comply with a subpoena directing them to produce 'all books, ledgers, records and papers relating to the receipt and disbursement of money by or on account of the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee or any subsidiary or any subcommittee thereof, together with all correspondence and memoranda of communications by any means whatsoever with persons in foreign countries for the period from January 1, 1945, to March 29, 1946.'

 The defendants now move to dismiss the indictments for alleged failure to state an offense against the United States.

 The principal contention advanced by the defendants is that the House Resolution under which the Committee acted is invalid.

 Manifestly, the sole purpose for which the Congress may carry on investigations and secure information is in connection with the exercise of its legislative function and with the appropriation of moneys. It may not, for example, compel the divulgence of information for the purpose of ascertaining whether a crime has been committed as a basis for a criminal prosecution, since this is a matter for the judiciary and for the prosecuting officers of the Government. On the other hand, if the same information is desired for use in connection with legislation, the Congress has a right to demand it. The information sought to be secured by a Congressional Committee must be germane to the legislative or the appropriating function.

 In connection with the exercise of these powers, however, the Congress is not limited to securing information precisely and directly bearing on some proposed measure, the enactment of which is contemplated or considered. The collection of facts may cover a wide field. Obviously in order to act in an enlightened manner, it may be necessary and desirable for the Congress to become acquainted not only with the precise topic involved in prospective legislation, but also with all matters that may have an indirect bearing on the subject. For example, in connection with the regulation of interstate commerce, it may conceivably become desirable for Congress to secure facts bearing solely on some aspects of intrastate commerce. Or, in enacting criminal legislation, it may first become desirable to investigate conditions in States and localities involving violations of local law. In connection with appropriating funds and determining what allotments of moneys should be made, it may become desirable to obtain information covering a wide range. While the power of the Congress to carry on investigations is not without limit, nevertheless, the Congress has broad discretion in determining the subject matter of the study and the scope and extent of the inquiry. If the subject under scrutiny may have any possible relevancy and materiality, no matter how remote, to some possible legislation, it is within the power of the Congress to investigate the matter. Moreover, the relevancy and the materiality of the subject matter must be presumed. The burden is on one who maintains the contrary to establish his contention. It would be intolerable if the judiciary were to intrude into the activities of the legislative branch of the Government, and virtually stop the progress of an investigation, which is intended to secure information that Congress deems necessary and desirable in the proper exercise of its functions, unless the lack of materiality and relevancy of the subject matter is clear and manifest.

 The authorities unanimously and conclusively support the foregoing views. Thus, in McGrain v. Daugherty, 273 U.S. 135, 174, 175, 47 S. Ct. 319, 328, 72 L. Ed. 580, 50 A.L.R. 1, Mr. Justice Van Devanter discussed this question as follows:

 'We are of opinion that the power of inquiry -- with process to enforce it -- is an essential and appropriate auxiliary to the legislative function. It was so regarded and employed in American legislatures ...


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