witness to the court for punishment. Either house of Congress may itself try, and if warranted, punish a witness who wilfully and without justification refuses to testify concerning matters pertinent to the legislative purpose of the inquiry. It may be that a congressional committee does not even have to have a legislative purpose but may conduct hearings solely to inform the public. So far as I am aware, no court has ever held that a congressional committee may compel the attendance of witnesses without having a legislative purpose. But that question I need not and do not decide in these cases.
For many years, and for obvious reasons, the Congress, instead of handling the matter itself, has referred cases of contumacious witnesses to the judiciary. It has done so in this instance.
When the power of the court to punish is invoked, it necessarily follows in order properly to determine the guilt or innocence of the accused, that the court must examine the entire situation confronting the witness at the time he was called upon to testify. Only thus can it be determined whether his refusal was capricious and arbitrary and therefore a wilful, unjustified obstruction of a legitimate function of the legislature or was a justifiable disobedience of the legislative command.
The only reason for having a witness on the stand, either before a committee of Congress or before a court, is to get a thoughtful, calm, considered and, it is to be hoped, truthful disclosure of facts. That is not always accomplished, even under the best of circumstances. But at least the atmosphere of the forum should lend itself to that end.
In the cases now to be decided, the stipulation of facts discloses that there were, in close proximity to the witness, television cameras, newsreel cameras, news photographers with their concomitant flashbulbs, radio microphones, a large and crowded hearing room with spectators standing along the walls, etc. The obdurate stand taken by these two defendants must be viewed in the context of all of these conditions. The concentration of all of these elements seems to me necessarily so to disturb and distract any witness to the point that he might say today something that next week he will realize was erroneous. And the mistake could get him in trouble all over again.
It is said that these defendants are hardened criminals who were not and could not have been affected by the paraphernalia and atmosphere to which they were exposed. That may be so, but the court cannot take judicial notice that it is so. Moreover, it cannot be said that for John, who is a good man, one rule applies, but for Jack, who is not a good man, another rule applies. Such reasoning is incompatible with our theory of justice.
Under the circumstances clearly delineated here, the court holds that the refusal of the defendants to testify was justified and it is hereby adjudged that they are not guilty.
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