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UNITED STATES v. NELSON

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA


February 12, 1952

UNITED STATES
v.
NELSON

The opinion of the court was delivered by: KIRKLAND

"The Court. This is a strange and unusual case. It marks probably the only place in the world where an independent judiciary sits in judgment of contempt of the legislative branch of the government which is itself completely independent and which in turn has passed a statute setting up the provisions for contempts of the legislative branch. The case is also unusual in that a person of foreign birth, who is now a naturalized citizen, has been brought before the bar of justice of this particular charge.

"When America accepts people into its fold, it must act with calculated risk. Most of them turn their backs on the old way and accept the new life. Others, like Lot's wife, look back and are turned into pillars of salt, their ideologies appearing to be frozen. Never in the history of the world have the great clashes between individualism and collectivism, or between the free world and the countries behind the iron curtain, been more in evidence than at the present time.

 "This is an unusual and interesting case in that while the defendant did not take the stand -- and as a principle of American justice no adverse inference in drawn by the Court from that fact -- he nevertheless offered in his defense four documents, three of which came from the files of the Committee on Un-American Activities of the House of Representatives. One was published approximately nine months before the hearing in question, to-wit, September 8, 1948. Another is a foreward of a document released June 8, 1949, the very day of thehearing. And if one could read them impassionately, one could gather that this defendant is either the most famous or infamous Communist that ever roamed the continental limits of the United States.

 "It may, however, be a real tribute to the American way of life that a federal court, appointed for life and free of pressures from politics or any other source, can sit in judgment as to whether this man did or did not commit a contempt before another branch of the American Government. American courts must not fall into the errors of those who in times of stress shut off the liberties of the people.

 "On this anniversary of the birth of the Great Emancipator, we remember the words of that martyred president when he said, almost 90 years ago, that 'our fathers brought forth a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war testing whether that nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure.'

 "The truth of the matter is, though we fought among ourselves in that period, we may be defending the individual liberties of the world at some future date. So the question still is, whether a nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure.

 "Even Satan would get a fair trial in the American federal courts. The principles of law involved are more important to America than the personality of this defendant."

19520212

© 1992-2004 VersusLaw Inc.



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