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UNITED STATES v. CONGRESS OF INDUS. ORGS.

March 15, 1948

UNITED STATES
v.
CONGRESS OF INDUSTRIAL ORGANIZATIONS et al.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MOORE

The Labor Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C.A. § 141 et seq., recently passed by Congress, imposes many conditions, restrictions, limitations and prohibitions upon labor organizations in the economic arena wherein the battles between labor and management are fought. With these economic features of the Act we are not concerned in this case. However, by one section of the Act Congress broadened its scope to include activities of labor organizations in the political field.

Section 304, 2 U.S.C.A. § 251, makes it unlawful for any labor organization to make an expenditure in connection with any election at which candidates for a federal office are to be selected or voted for. The penal sanctions of this section extend also to an officer of a labor organization who consents to such an expenditure by the organization of which he is an officer.

 This case arises under Section 304 of the Act.

 The Congress of Industrial Organizations, conveniently referred to as CIO, publishes and circulates a newspaper called the CIO News. Philip Murray is president of CIO.

 On July 15, 1947, a special election was held to elect a representative in Congress in the Third Congressional District of the State of Maryland. Immediately prior to this election, in express disobedience of the provisions of Section 304 of the Labor Management Relations Act relative to expenditures by labor organizations in connection with federal elections, and for the purpose of testing their constitutionality, Murray wrote an editorial favoring one of the candidates and opposing the other, and caused it to be published in the CIO News, and circulated in the Third Congressional District of Maryland. Apparently to remove all doubt that CIO was by this act making expenditures in connection with an election, one thousand extra copies of the newspaper containing Murray's editorial were printed and circulated by CIO. The expenditures for publishing and circulating the newspaper were made in the District of Columbia, and the one thousand extra copies were mailed from there to be circulated in Maryland.

 This indictment followed. It charges CIO with making expenditures in connection with a federal election by publishing and circulating the Murray editorial, and Murray as president of CIO with consenting to such expenditures.

 Defendants have moved to dismiss the indictment on the broad ground that the applicable part of Section 304 of the Act is unconstitutional because it violates the guaranties of the Bill of Rights, particularly those of the First Amendment.

 The government concedes that rights guaranteed by the First Amendment are abridged by the prohibition against expenditures by labor organizations in connection with elections; but it says the Congress has power under Article 1, Section 4, of the Constitution to abridge First Amendment rights if it considers such a course necessary in maintaining the purity and freedom of elections.

 Thus the Court is confronted with the necessity of passing on the validity of Section 304 of the Act, insofar as it relates to expenditures by labor organizations in connection with federal elections.

 I am sensible of the deference which courts must accord to the considered will of the legislative branch of the government as expressed in a statute. If a reasonable construction of the statute can logically be made under which it is free from imputation of unconstitutionality, the statute must be so interpreted. If, however, the words of the statute are plain and can have only one meaning, a court cannot escape the obligation of deciding whether or not it falls within the limits of constitutional legislative power. Gemsco, Inc., et al. v. Walling, 324 U.S. 244, 260, 65 S. Ct. 605, 89 L. Ed. 921; United States v. Rice, District Judge, 327 U.S. 742, 753, 66 S. Ct. 835, 90 L. Ed. 982. By the words of this statute expenditures of a labor organization in connection with any federal election are made unlawful. *fn1" Regardless of whether this provision does or does not fix an ascertainable standard of guilt, it is clear that the acts of CIO in publishing and circulating the editorial, and of Murray in consenting thereto, come within its scope. The editorial was written with specific reference to a particular federal election and the expenditure made for publishing and circulating it was therefore necessarily made in connection with that election. The statute contains no exemption or exclusion eliminating from its prohibitions those activities which the Bill of Rights protects. Indeed, few acts in connection with an election, other than those which have for their purpose some sort of coercion, intimidation or corruption of the electorate could be said to be without the boundaries of such protection. It is plain that Congress by this statutory provision denounced as unlawful acts which would otherwise be entirely innocent in nature, and in the exercise of which a labor organization is concededly protected under the Bill of Rights. Cf. Grosjean v. American Press Co., Inc., et al., 297 U.S. 233, 56 S. Ct. 444, 80 L. Ed. 660; Bridges v. California, 314 U.S. 252, 62 S. Ct. 190, 86 L. Ed. 192, 159 A.L.R. 1346. I conclude, therefore, that the indictment charges an offense under Section 304 of the Labor Management Relations Act, and it follows that if the provisions of that section, pursuant to which the indictment was returned, were constitutionally valid, the indictment would necessarily be sustained

 Judged by its plain terms, the statute on its face fails to survive the constitutional test.

 I am of opinion that the questioned portion of Section 304 of the Act is an unconstitutional abridgment of freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly. At no time are these rights so vital as when they are exercised during, preceding or following an election. If they were permitted only at times when they could have no effect in influencing public opinion, and denied at the very time and in relation to the very matters that are calculated to give the rights value, they would lose that precious character with which they have been clothed from the beginning of our national life. Cf. Bridges v. California, supra, 314 U.S. 269, 62 S. Ct. 190, 86 L. Ed. 192, 159 A.L.R. 1346.

 The legislative history of the statutory provision under consideration, copiously related in briefs of counsel for the government, clearly shows that the legislation was aimed at the very type of political activity which is charged as an offense in this indictment, namely, the publication and distribution of newspapers containing editorials favoring or opposing candidates for federal office. If is insisted by the government that Congress could abridge the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment (which the government concedes was done here) because of its constitutional control over the manner of holding elections, and its consequent power to prevent corruption therein, and to secure clean elections. This argument would be persuasive if the statute prohibited specific acts of a kind which might conceivably be expected to produce corruption in any of its forms, or to prevent in any way the holding of free elections; but the untrammeled right of free expression of views as to candidates for office, through newspapers or other means of conveying the written or spoken word, and of the public in general to have free access thereto, far from being a conceivable means of corrupting or interfering with free elections, is in fact one of the most valuable means of promoting purity and freedom in the electoral process. See De Jonge v. Oregon, 299 U.S. 353, 365, 57 S. Ct. 255, 81 L. Ed. 278.

 It must be remembered that it is not only the right of the publisher of a newspaper or editorial sheet which is protected by the First Amendment; but also, and perhaps over and above that right, there is the right of the people to be informed of the views represented by conflicting interests and opinions. How are they to get such information concerning the views of laboring men and women if the organization in and ...


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