McGrain v. Daugherty

McGrain v. Daugherty

A landmark decision of the Supreme Court, McGrain v. Daugherty, 273 U.S. 135, 47 S.Ct. 319, 71 L.Ed. 580 (1927), recognized the implicit power of either House of Congress to hold a witness in a congressional investigation in Contempt for a refusal to honor its summons or to respond to its questions.During the mid-1920s, there were numerous allegations that the U.S. Justice Department was being mismanaged by its administrator, harry daugherty, the attorney general of the United States. In response to the charges, the Senate passed a resolution that empowered an investigatory committee to hear evidence as to whether Daugherty failed to prosecute various violations of the antitrust laws. Mally S. Daugherty, who was a bank president as well as the brother of the attorney general, refused to respond to a subpoena that was issued by the committee on two occasions, ordering him to appear and to bring designated bank ledgers. The president pro tempore of the Senate issued a warrant to his sergeant at arms that Mally Daugherty be taken into custody. A deputy of the sergeant at arms took Daugherty into custody in Cincinnati, Ohio. Daugherty brought a Habeas Corpus action for his release in federal district court in Ohio. The court declared that the attachment and detention of the witness was void on the ground that the Senate exceeded its powers in directing the investigation and in ordering the seizure of Daugherty. The deputy made a direct appeal to the Supreme Court, which accepted the case for review.

The Court defined two issues: whether the Senate or House of Representatives has authority to use its own process to compel a private person to appear as a witness and to testify before it or one of its committees in order that Congress can perform a legislative function that it has under the Constitution; and whether the process that was used in this case was directed toward that purpose. Before addressing those questions, however, the Court reviewed some of Daugherty's assertions. Daugherty argued that there was no statutory provision for a deputy and that even if there were, the deputy had no power to execute the warrant, since it was addressed to the sergeant at arms. The Court disagreed. It explained that deputies were authorized to act for the sergeant at arms by virtue of a standing order adopted by the Senate and that Congress recognized their status by establishing and making appropriations for their compensation.

Daugherty also used the Fourth Amendment provision that "no warrants shall issue, but upon Probable Cause, supported by oath or affirmation," to assert that the warrant was void because its basis was an unsworn committee report. The Court rejected this argument on the ground that the committee members were acting pursuant to their oath as Senators when they issued the warrant. When committee members act on matters within their knowledge, probable cause exists for the action of the committee. The warrant withstood constitutional muster.

Daugherty also claimed that the warrant was deficient because it stated that he be "brought before the bar of the Senate then and there" to testify. It was not a subpoena to appear before the Senate, nor did he refuse to do so. The Court dismissed this assertion, because it considered the warrant an auxiliary process used by the committee that was acting for the Senate to compel the witness to provide testimony sought by the subpoena.

The Court finally addressed the central issues of the case: the constitutional authority of the Senate to act in such a manner; and whether the warrant in this case was appropriate. It reasoned that while the power to investigate was not explicitly given to Congress by the Constitution, it was traditionally recognized as implicit in the legislative function since it is a means to obtain necessary information. The Court also referred to various federal laws that demonstrated that either house of Congress has the power to commence investigations and gather evidence concerning activities within its jurisdiction; that committees may conduct such investigations; that in order to fully implement the power to investigate, either house may punish uncooperative witnesses; and witnesses may be given Immunity from criminal prosecutions that derive from their testimonies before the committees. Based upon tradition and statutes, the Court concluded that each house of Congress has auxiliary powers that are essential in order to effectuate its express powers, but neither house has unlimited "general" power to investigate private matters and force testimony. The Senate acted within its powers when it authorized a committee to investigate Daugherty. When the committee sought Daugherty's testimony, it was as a means to perform a legislative function since the purpose of the inquiry was to determine whether the attorney general and the Department of Justice—subjects of congressional regulations and appropriations—were properly performing their duties. The Court deemed that Daugherty's seizure and detention were appropriate because of his wrongful refusal to appear and testify before a lawful congressional committee. It reversed the order of the district court that released Daugherty from custody.


Congress of the United States.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
The case ultimately reached the Supreme Court, where, in a landmark decision, McGrain v. Daugherty, (11) the Court upheld the Senate's authority to investigate charges concerning the Department:
He also acted with the strength of the 1927 Supreme Court decision McGrain v. Daugherty holding that "a committee could subpoena anyone to testify, including private citizens who were neither government officials nor employees." Once again, McCarthy used these powers for the specific, narrowly defined purpose of exposing Communist infiltrators and espionage agents within the federal government.
In McGrain v. Daugherty, (7) which arose out of the exercise of the Senate's inherent contempt power, the Supreme Court described the power of inquiry, with the accompanying process to enforce it, as "an essential and appropriate auxiliary to the legislative function." The Court explained: