Amdt1.2.10.1.3 Legislative Investigations

First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The power of inquiry by congressional and state legislative committees in order to develop information as a basis for legislation1 is subject to some uncertain limitation when the power as exercised results in deterrence or penalization of protected beliefs, associations, and conduct. Although the Court initially indicated that it would scrutinize closely such inquiries in order to curb First Amendment infringement,2 later cases balanced the interests of the legislative bodies in inquiring about both protected and unprotected associations and conduct against what were perceived to be limited restraints upon the speech and association rights of witnesses, and upheld wide-ranging committee investigations.3 Later, the Court placed the balance somewhat differently and required that the investigating agency show a subordinating interest which is compelling to justify the restraint on First Amendment rights that the Court found would result from the inquiry.4 The issues in this field, thus, remain unsettled.

Footnotes

  1.  Jump to essay-1See subtopics under Investigations in Aid of Legislation, supra.
  2.  Jump to essay-2See United States v. Rumely, 345 U.S. 41 (1953); Watkins v. United States, 354 U.S. 178, 197–98 (1957); Sweezy v. New Hampshire, 354 U.S. 234, 249–51 (1957). Concurring in the last case, Justices Frankfurter and Harlan would have ruled that the inquiry there was precluded by the First Amendment. Id. at 255.
  3.  Jump to essay-3Barenblatt v. United States, 360 U.S. 109 (1959); Uphaus v. Wyman, 360 U.S. 72 (1959); Wilkinson v. United States, 365 U.S. 399 (1961); Braden v. United States, 365 U.S. 431 (1961). Chief Justice Warren and Justices Black, Douglas, and Brennan dissented in each case.
  4.  Jump to essay-4Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Committee, 372 U.S. 539 (1963). Justices Harlan, Clark, Stewart, and White dissented. Id. at 576, 583. See also DeGregory v. Attorney General of New Hampshire, 383 U.S. 825 (1966).