to reveal such information. For the Communist movement now constitutes a criminal conspiracy, and identifying members of the party may well be necessary under certain circumstances. Nevertheless, the existence of such a conspiracy at this time does not justify the subjecting to rigorous public examination by the legislature of the entire history of every individual who has at any time in the past had any connection with the Communist movement.
The balancing of the 'Congressional need for particular information with the individual and personal interest in privacy is an arduous and delicate task for any court.'
But it is a task which courts must perform. Failure to do so would be to 'abdicate the responsibility placed by the Constitution upon the judiciary to insure that the Congress does not unjustifiably encroach upon an individual's right to privacy nor abridge his liberty of speech, press, religion or assembly.'
In performing the judicial function, courts do not invade the legislative preserve. They do not tell the Congress what it may investigate or how it must proceed. They merely insist that individuals not be punished for actions which are not legally punishable.
But even if the interests of national security could be said to justify requiring Peck to answer the questions, the conviction could not stand. For the procedural defects inherent in the Subcommittee's investigations are such as to render unconstitutional any infringement of a witness' First Amendment rights.
The major defect in the investigations of the Internal Security Subcommittee is the vagueness of the resolution pursuant to which they were conducted. Although a pre-Watkins divided Court of Appeals decided that this resolution was sufficiently specific to meet the standards then deemed controlling as to authorizing resolutions,
it is abundantly clear that the resolution can no longer be said to avoid 'the vice of vagueness'.
In Watkins, the Supreme Court found that the authorizing resolution of the Un-American Activities Committee of the House of Representatives is of 'confusing breadth' and that 'its * * * boundaries are so nebulous'
that it is impossible for courts to determine when the Committee has exceeded its authority. The Court's conclusion was based on three factors: (1) the indefiniteness inherent in the term 'un-American activities', (2) the wide 'range of activity' of past Communist inquiries, and (3) the probe into the past 'to collect minutiae'.
It seems unnecessary to explore in detail the nature of the authorizing resolution herein involved, the scope of the Subcommittee's previous investigations, or to belabor its propensity for equating the past with the present. It seems manifest that the vices to be found in the House Un-American Activities Committee's authorizing resolution are equally present in the charter of the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. The Senate Resolution is composed of three sections, two of which relate to the study of internal security laws. The third section, however, purports to grant the authority to investigate 'subversive activities'.
The Supreme Court has clearly indicated that such a grant of authority must fail for want of definiteness. In Watkins the Court noted that the Chairman of the Un-American Activities Committee had announced that the scope of the investigation was 'subversion and subversive propaganda'. The Court then said, 'This is a subject at least as broad and indefinite as the authorizing resolution of the Committee, if not more so.'
In its resolution, the Senate did not undertake the troublesome task of defining 'subversive activities'. The Senate did explicitly state, however, that the investigation was not limited to 'movement(s) seeking to overthrow the Government of the United States by force and violence.' But no indication is given as to what else is deemed 'subversive', nor is the Court aware of a satisfactory definition. What may be a fit subject for investigation one day may be tomorrow's sacred cow. What is the height of orthodoxy today may be viewed as 'un-American' tomorrow. Nor is there any individual who can be certain that he is not considered 'subversive' by some of his fellow citizens. Who is to say, for example, whether one who is openly dedicated to depriving his neighbors of their 14th Amendment rights under the Federal Constitution is a 'subversive'? The dangers of classifying certain forms of belief or political activity as 'subversive' are all too apparent from the recent history of this country. It is too easy for one segment of public opinion to smear with that label those who hold opinions which are unpopular. Such labeling by means of legislative investigations constitutes a drastic form of Governmental sanction.
When that labeling is done in the manner utilized by the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee it becomes intolerable. Democracy deals with unpopular views by offering better ideas and programs, not by outlawing those views or penalizing their adherents.
The resolution cannot be saved by reference to the first two sections, which concern investigations of the Internal Security Act and laws relating to espionage and sabotage. Nor can it be saved by construing the third section to include only such 'subversive activities' as are comprehended within the 'including but not limited to' clause.
For the history of the Subcommittee's investigations
shows that it conceived its mission to be the broad task of rooting out 'subversives' or Communists wherever if found them. The Subcommittee made no effort to distinguish among the several sections of its authorizing resolution in conducting its investigations, and thus the resolution must be evaluated as a whole. The Court must view it in the light of the Subcommittee's understanding of its mandate -- to root out subversion. A comparison of the Subcommittee's reports with those of the Un-American Activities Committee demonstrates an identity of understanding as to the sweeping mission to be accomplished. Each conceived of itself as the nation's watchdog. Each thought that it was capable of determining what was 'Un-American', what was 'subversive'. Each failed to distinguish between innocent associations with groups which were legitimate at the time of membership and knowing adherence to a criminal conspiracy. Neither restricted its inquiries to acts of espionage, sabotage, or infiltration -- whatever the latter means -- by persons dedicated to overthrowing the government by force.
The Supreme Court has held that such a manifestation of authority renders an authorizing resolution, so questionable in its terms, vague or defective.
It is, therefore, the Court's conclusion that the Subcommittee unconstitutionally invaded Peck's rights. The witness' refusal to answer constituted a legitimate exercise of a basic right, secured to him and to every individual by the First Amendment to our Constitution. Such action is not punishable by any branch of the government. Accordingly, the defendant's motion for judgment of acquittal must be granted.
There is an additional defect in the investigation which should be noted. The contempt of Congress statute makes it a misdemeanor for a witness to refuse to answer questions pertinent to the 'question under inquiry'. 'Fundamental fairness' requires that the witness be able to determine at the hearing what the 'question under inquiry' is.
During the hearing, in partial explanation of his refusal to answer a question, Peck stated, 'The subpoena does not describe the subject matter under inquiry. I assume, however, that I am being called in the course of the hearings which your subcommittee is presently conducting, during which numerous individuals who are or have been connected with newspapers are questioned with respect to their associations, activities, and beliefs.' Were the subject under inquiry what the witness stated it to be, the compelling of answers to questions would clearly have been in violation of his constitutional rights, for no committee could assume so unlimited and undemocratic a function. The Chairman of the Subcommittee, however, failed to correct the witness or to offer an explanation of the question under inquiry, but instead overruled his objection and ordered him to answer the question.
That the question under inquiry was not 'luminous'
to the witness is the result of the precise defects in the method of exercising legislative authority which were involved in Watkins. In this case, too, 'there is a wide gulf between the responsibility for the use of investigative power and the actual exercise of that power.'
In this case, too, the Subcommittee ranged over many subjects during the course of its investigations, did not clearly establish any lines of demarcation between series of investigations, and did not restrict its questioning of the witnesses to any one field. The witness could not be aware of the subject under inquiry because there was no subject, except for the broad, vague, general authority of the Subcommittee.
The government contends, however, that even though a Committee is acting under a resolution which does not sufficiently define its authority, and even though a witness cannot determine the subject under inquiry, he has been afforded due process of law unless he objects to the questions asked on the specific grounds of 'pertinency'. This Court does not so narrowly construe Watkins, nor does it consider that such a construction is in any way consistent with the spirit of that ruling. Rather the Court believes that Watkins requires strict compliance by the Congress with procedural requirements of definiteness of authority and subject matter whenever First Amendment rights of a witness are involved.
In any event, the Court finds that Peck did object to the lack of pertinency of the questions. Although he did not use the word 'pertinency', he informed the Subcommittee that he did not believe that it possessed the authority to ask the particular questions involved. In so doing he also specifically put the Subcommittee on notice that his complaint related to the invasion of his First Amendment rights. Justification for such an invasion may be found only in cases in which the Subcommittee's authority is clearly defined, a clear question under inquiry is established and a question pertinent thereto is asked. Yet the Subcommittee made no effort to explain its asserted right to engage in such an invasion. Surely Peck's objection was sufficient, for where constitutional rights are involved, courts must liberally interpret objections of witnesses.
They cannot impose a standard of technicality or insist upon a rigid verbal formula which serves only to defeat the basic constitutional liberties they should strive to preserve.