|Louisiana ex rel. Francis v. Resweber
[ Reed ]
[ Frankfurter ]
[ Burton ]
Louisiana ex rel. Francis v. Resweber
CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF LOUISIANA
MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER, concurring.
When four members of the Court find that a State has denied to a person the due process which the Fourteenth Amendment safeguards, it seems to me important to be explicit regarding the criteria by which the State's duty of obedience to the Constitution must be judged. Particularly is this so when life is at stake.
Until July 28, 1868, when the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified, the Constitution of the United States left the States free to carry out their own notions of criminal justice, except insofar as they were limited by Article I, § 10 of the Constitution which declares: "No State shall . . . pass any Bill of Attainder, [or] ex post facto Law . . ." The Fourteenth Amendment placed no specific restraints upon the States in the formulation or the administration of their criminal law. It restricted the freedom of the States generally, so that States thereafter could not "abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States," or "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law," or "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
These are broad, inexplicit clauses of the Constitution, unlike specific provisions of the first eight amendments formulated by the Founders to guard against recurrence of well defined historic grievances. But broad as these clauses are, they are not generalities of empty vagueness. They are circumscribed partly by history and partly by the problems of government, large and dynamic [p467] though they be, with which they are concerned. The "privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States" concern the dual citizenship under our federal system. The safeguards of "due process of law" and "the equal protection of the laws" summarize the meaning of the struggle for freedom of English-speaking peoples. They run back to Magna Carta, but contemplate no less advances in the conceptions of justice and freedom by a progressive society. See the classic language of Mr. Justice Matthews in Hurtado v. California, 110 U.S. 516, 530-31.
When, shortly after its adoption, the Fourteenth Amendment came before this Court for construction, it was urged that the "privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States" which were not to be abridged by any State were the privileges and immunities which citizens theretofore enjoyed under the Constitution. If that view had prevailed, the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment would have placed upon the States the limitations which the specific articles of the first eight amendments had theretofore placed upon the agencies of the national government. After the fullest consideration, that view was rejected. The rejection has the authority that comes from contemporaneous knowledge of the purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment. See Slaughter-House Cases, 16 Wall. 36, 67-68; Davidson v. New Orleans, 96 U.S. 97. The notion that the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment absorbed, as it is called, the provisions of the Bill of Rights that limit the Federal Government has never been given countenance by this Court.
Not until recently was it suggested that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment was merely a compendious reference to the Bill of Rights whereby the States were now restricted in devising and enforcing their penal code precisely as is the Federal Government by the [p468] first eight amendments. On this view, the States would be confined in the enforcement of their criminal codes by those views for safeguarding the rights of the individual which were deemed necessary in the eighteenth century. Some of these safeguards have perduring validity. Some grew out of transient experience or formulated remedies which time might well improve. The Fourteenth Amendment did not mean to imprison the States into the limited experience of the eighteenth century. It did mean to withdraw from the States the right to act in ways that are offensive to a decent respect for the dignity of man, and heedless of his freedom.
These are very broad terms by which to accommodate freedom and authority. As has been suggested from time to time, they may be too large to serve as the basis for adjudication, in that they allow much room for individual notions of policy. That is not our concern. The fact is that the duty of such adjudication on a basis no less narrow has been committed to this Court.
In an impressive body of decisions, this Court has decided that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment expresses a demand for civilized standards which are not defined by the specifically enumerated guarantees of the Bill of Rights. They neither contain the particularities of the first eight amendments nor are they confined to them. That due process of law has its own independent function has been illustrated in numerous decisions, and has been expounded in the opinions of the Court which have canvassed the matter most thoroughly. See Hurtado v. California, supra; Twining v. New Jersey, 211 U.S. 78; Snyder v. Massachusetts, 291 U.S. 97; Palko v. Connecticut, 302 U.S. 319. Insofar as due process under the Fourteenth Amendment requires the States to observe any of the immunities "that are valid as against the federal government by force of the specific pledges of particular amendments," it does so because they
Palko v. Connecticut, supra, at 324-25.
The Federal Bill of Rights requires that prosecutions for federal crimes be initiated by a grand jury and tried by a petty jury; it protects an accused from being a witness against himself. The States are free to consult their own conceptions of policy in dispensing with the grand jury, in modifying or abolishing the petty jury, in withholding the privilege against self-crimination. See Maxwell v. Dow, 176 U.S. 581; Twining v. New Jersey, supra; Snyder v. Massachusetts, supra; Palko v. Connecticut, supra, at 323, 324; cf. Feldman v. United States, 322 U.S. 487. In short, the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment did not withdraw the freedom of a State to enforce its own notions of fairness in the administration of criminal justice unless, as it was put for the Court by Mr. Justice Cardozo, "in so doing, it offends some principle of justice so rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people as to be ranked as fundamental." Snyder v. Massachusetts, supra, at 105.
A State may offend such a principle of justice by brutal subjection of an individual to successive retrials on a charge on which he has been acquitted. Such conduct by a State might be a denial of due process, but not because the protection against double jeopardy in a federal prosecution against which the Fifth Amendment safeguards limits a State. For the disputations that are engendered by technical aspects of double jeopardy as enshrined in the Fifth Amendment, see the majority and dissenting opinions in Ex parte Lange, 18 Wall. 163, and In re Bradley, 318 U.S. 50. Again, a State may be found to deny a person due process by treating even one guilty of crime in a manner that violates standards of decency more or less universally accepted, though not when it treats him [p470] by a mode about which opinion is fairly divided. But the penological policy of a State is not to be tested by the scope of the Eighth Amendment, and is not involved in the controversy which is necessarily evoked by that Amendment as to the historic meaning of "cruel and unusual punishment." See Weems v. United States, 217 U.S. 349, and particularly the dissenting opinion of White and Holmes, JJ.
Once we are explicit in stating the problem before us in terms defined by an unbroken series of decisions, we cannot escape acknowledging that it involves the application of standards of fairness and justice very broadly conceived. They are not the application of merely personal standards, but the impersonal standards of society which alone judges, as the organs of Law, are empowered to enforce. When the standards for judicial judgment are not narrower than "immutable principles of justice which inhere in the very idea of free government," Holden v. Hardy, 169 U.S. 366, 389, "fundamental principles of liberty and justice which lie at the base of all our civil and political institutions," Hebert v. Louisiana, 272 U.S. 312, 316, "immunities . . . implicit in the concept of ordered liberty," Palko v. Connecticut, supra, at 324-25, great tolerance toward a State's conduct is demanded of this Court. Such were recently stated to be "the controlling principles." See Mr. Chief Justice Stone in Malinski v. New York, 324 U.S. 401, 438, in connection with the concurring opinion in that case, ibid., 412, 416, 417.
I cannot bring myself to believe that for Louisiana to leave to executive clemency, rather than to require, mitigation of a sentence of death duly pronounced upon conviction for murder because a first attempt to carry it out was an innocent misadventure, offends a principle of justice "rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people." See Snyder v. Massachusetts, supra, at 105. Short of [p471] the compulsion of such a principle, this Court must abstain from interference with State action no matter how strong one's personal feeling of revulsion against a State's insistence on its pound of flesh. One must be on guard against finding in personal disapproval a reflection of more or less prevailing condemnation. Strongly drawn as I am to some of the sentiments expressed by my brother BURTON, I cannot rid myself of the conviction that, were I to hold that Louisiana would transgress the Due Process Clause if the State were allowed, in the precise circumstances before us, to carry out the death sentence, I would be enforcing my private view, rather than that consensus of society's opinion which, for purposes of due process, is the standard enjoined by the Constitution.
The fact that I reach this conclusion does not mean that a hypothetical situation, which assumes a series of abortive attempts at electrocution or even a single, cruelly willful attempt, would not raise different questions. When the Fourteenth Amendment first came here for application, the Court abstained from venturing even a tentative definition of due process. With wise forethought, it indicated that what may be found within or without the Due Process Clause must inevitably be left to
the gradual process of judicial inclusion and exclusion, as the cases presented for decision shall require, with the reasoning on which such decisions may be founded.
Davidson v. New Orleans, supra, at 104. This is another way of saying that these are matters which depend on "differences of degree. The whole law does so as soon as it is civilized." Holmes, J., in LeRoy Fibre Co. v. Chicago, M. & St. P. R. Co., 232 U.S. 340, 354. Especially is this so as to questions arising under the Due Process Clause. A finding that, in this case, the State of Louisiana has not gone beyond its powers is, for me, not the starting point for abstractly logical extension. Since I cannot say that it would be "repugnant to the conscience of mankind," [p472] Palko v. Connecticut, supra, at 323, for Louisiana to exercise the power on which she here stands, I cannot say that the Constitution withholds it.