|United States v. Brewster
[ Burger ]
[ Brennan ]
[ White ]
United States v. Brewster
APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
MR. JUSTICE WHITE, with whom MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS and MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN join, dissenting.
The question presented by this case is not whether bribery or other offensive conduct on the part of Members of Congress must or should go unpunished. No one suggests that the Speech or Debate Clause insulates Senators and Congressmen from accountability for their misdeeds. Indeed, the Clause itself is but one of several constitutional provisions that make clear that Congress has broad powers to try and punish its Members:
[T]he Constitution expressly empowers each House to punish its own members for disorderly behavior. We see no reason to doubt that this punishment may, in a proper case be imprisonment, and that it may be for refusal to obey some rule on that subject made by the House for the preservation of order.
So also, the penalty which each House is authorized to inflict in order to compel the attendance of absent members may be imprisonment, and this may be for a violation of some order or standing rule on that subject.
Each House is, by the Constitution, made the judge of the election and qualification of its members. In deciding on these, it has an undoubted right to examine witnesses and inspect papers, subject to the usual rights of witnesses in such cases; and it may be that a witness would be subject to like punishment at the hands of the body engaged in trying a contested election, for refusing to testify, that he would if the case were pending before a court of judicature.
The House of Representatives has the sole right to impeach officers of the government, and the Senate to try them. Where the question of such impeachment is before either body acting in its appropriate [p552] sphere on that subject, we see no reason to doubt the right to compel the attendance of witnesses, and their answer to proper questions, in the same manner and by the use of the same means that courts of justice can in like cases.
Kilbourn v. Thompson, 103 U.S. 168, 189-190 (1881). The sole issue here is in what forum the accounting must take place -- whether the prosecution that the Government proposes is consistent with the command that, "for any Speech or Debate in either House, they [Members of Congress] hall not be questioned in any other Place." U.S.Const., Art. I, § 6, cl. 1.
The majority disposes of this issue by distinguishing between promise and performance. Even if a Senator or Congressman may not be prosecuted for a corrupt legislative act, the Speech or Debate Clause does not prohibit prosecution for a corrupt promise to perform that act. If a Member of Congress promises to vote for or against a bill in return for money, casts his vote in accordance with the promise and accepts payment, the majority's view is that, even though he may not he prosecuted for voting as he did, although the vote was corrupt, the executive may prosecute and the judiciary may try him for the corrupt agreement or for taking the money either under a narrowly drawn statute or one of general application. This distinction between a promise and an act will not withstand scrutiny in terms of the values that the Speech or Debate Clause was designed to secure.
The majority agrees that, in order to assure the independence and integrity of the legislature and to reinforce the separation of powers so deliberately established by the Founders, the Speech or Debate Clause prevents a legislative act from being the basis of criminal or civil liability. Concededly, a Member of Congress may not be prosecuted or sued for making a speech or voting in [p553] committee or on the floor, whether he was paid to do so or not. The majority also appears to embrace the holding in United States v. Johnson, 383 U.S. 169 (1966), that a Member of Congress could not be convicted of a conspiracy to defraud the Government where the purposes or motives underlying his conduct as a legislator are called into question. If one follows the mode of the majority's present analysis, the prosecution in Johnson was not for speaking, voting, or performing any other legislative act in a particular manner; the criminal act charged was a conspiracy to defraud the United States anterior to any legislative performance. To prove the crime, however, the prosecution introduced evidence that money was paid to make a speech, among other things, and that the speech was made. This, the Court held, violated the Speech or Debate Clause, because it called into question the motives and purposes underlying Congressman Johnson's performance of his legislative duties.
The same infirmity inheres in the present indictment, which was founded upon two separate statutes. Title 18 U.S.C. § 201(g) requires proof of a defendant's receipt, or an agreement or attempt to receive, anything of value "for or because of any official act performed or to be performed by him. . . ." Of course, not all, or even many, official acts would be legislative acts protected by the Speech or Debate Clause; but whatever the act, the Government must identify it to prove its case. Here, we are left in no doubt whatsoever, for the official acts expressly charged in the indictment were in respect to "his action, vote and decision on postage rate legislation." Similarly, there is no basis for arguing that the indictment did not contemplate proof of performance of the act, for the indictment in so many words charged the arrangement was
for and because of official acts performed by him in respect to his action, vote and decision on postage rate legislation which had been pending before [p554] him in his official capacity.
(Emphasis added.) It is this indictment, not some other charge, that was challenged and dismissed by the District Court. Like that court, I would take the Government at its word: it alleged and intended to prove facts that questioned and impugned the motives and purposes underlying specified legislative acts of the Senator and intended to use these facts as a basis for the conviction of the Senator himself. Thus, taking the charge at face value, the indictment represents an attempt to prosecute and convict a Member of Congress not only for taking money but also for performing a legislative act. Moreover, whatever the proof might be, the indictment on its face charged a corrupt undertaking with respect to the performance of legislative conduct that had already occurred and so, without more, "questioned in [some] other Place" the speech and debate of a Member of Congress. Such a charge is precisely the kind that the Senator should not have been called upon to answer if the Speech or Debate Clause is to fulfill its stated purpose.
Insofar as it charged crimes under 18 U.S.C. § 201(c)(1), the indictment fares little better. That section requires proof of a corrupt arrangement for the receipt of money and also proof that the arrangement was in return for the defendant's "being influenced in his performance of any official act. . . ." Whatever the official act may prove to be, the Government cannot prove its case without calling into question the motives of the Member in performing that act, for it must prove that the Member undertook for money to be influenced in that performance. Clearly, if the Government sought to prove its case against a Member of Congress by evidence of a legislative act, conviction could not survive in the face of the holding in Johnson. But even if an offense under the statute could be established merely by proof of an undertaking to cast a vote, which is not alleged in the indictment or [p555] shown at trial to have taken place one way or the other, the motives of the legislator in performing his duties with respect to the subject matter of the undertaking would nevertheless inevitably be implicated. In charging the offense under § 201 (c)(1), the indictment alleged a corrupt arrangement made
in return for being influenced in his performance of official acts in respect to his action, vote, and decision on postage legislation which might at any time be pending before him in his official capacity.
Again, I would take the Government at its word: it charged and intended to prove facts that could not fail to implicate Senator Brewster's performance of his legislative duties. [*]
The use of criminal charges
against critical or disfavored legislators by the executive in a judicial forum was the chief fear prompting the long struggle for parliamentary privilege,
United States v. Johnson, 383 U.S. at 182 (1966), and in applying the privilege "we look particularly to the prophylactic purposes of the clause." Ibid. Let us suppose that the Executive Branch is informed that private interests are paying a Member of Congress to oppose administration-sponsored legislation. The Congressman is chairman of a key committee where a vote is pending. A representative from the Executive Branch informs the Congressman of the allegations against him, hopes the charges are not true, and expresses confidence that the committee will report the bill and that the Member will support it on the floor. The pressure on the Congressmen, corrupt or not, is undeniable. He [p556] will clearly fare better in any future criminal prosecution if he answers the charge of corruption with evidence that he voted contrary to the alleged bargain. Even more compelling is the likelihood that he will not be prosecuted at all if he follows the administration's suggestion and supports the bill. Putting aside the potential for abuse in ill-conceived, mistaken, or false accusations, the Speech or Debate Clause was designed to prevent just such an exercise of executive power. It is no answer to maintain that the potential for abuse does not inhere in a prosecution for a completed bribery transaction where the legislative act has already occurred. A corrupt vote may not be made the object of a criminal prosecution because otherwise the Executive would be armed with power to control the vote in question, if forewarned, or, in any event, to control other legislative conduct.
All of this comes to naught if the executive may prosecute for a promise to vote though not for the vote itself. The same hazards to legislative independence inhere in the two prosecutions. Bribery is most often carried out by prearrangement; if that part of the transaction may be plucked from its context and made the basis of criminal charges, the Speech or Debate Clause loses its force. It will be small comfort for a Congressman to know that he cannot be prosecuted for his vote, whatever it may be, but he can be prosecuted for an alleged agreement even if he votes contrary to the asserted bargain.
The realities of the American political system, of which the majority fails to take account, render particularly illusory a Speech or Debate Clause distinction between a promise to perform a legislative act and the act itself. Ours is a representative government. Candidates for office engage in heated contests and the victor is he who receives the greatest number of votes from his constituents. These campaigns are run on [p567] platforms that include statements of intention and undertakings to promote certain policies. These promises are geared, at least in part, to the interests.of the Congressman's constituency. Members of Congress may be legally free from dictation by the voters, but there is a residual conviction that they should have due regard for the interests of their States or districts, if only because on election day a Member is answerable for his conduct.
Serving constituents is a crucial part of a legislator's ongoing duties. Congressmen receive a constant stream of complaints and requests for help or service. Judged by the volume and content of a Congressman' mail, the right to petition is neither theoretical nor ignored. It has never been thought unethical for a Member of Congress whose performance on the job may determine the success of his next campaign not only to listen to the petitions of interest groups in his State or district, which may come from every conceivable group of people, but also to support or oppose legislation serving or threatening those interests.
Against this background a second fact of American political life assumes considerable importance for the purposes of this case. Congressional campaigns are most often financed with contributions from those interested in supporting particular Congressmen and their policies. A legislator must maintain a working relationship with his constituents not only to garner votes to maintain his office but to generate financial support for his campaigns. He must also keep in mind the potential effect of his conduct upon those from whom he has received financial support in the past and those whose help he expects or hopes to have in the next campaign. An expectation or hope of future assistance can arise because constituents have indicated that support will be forthcoming if the Member of Congress champions their point of view. [p558] Financial support may also arrive later from those who approve of a Congressman's conduct and have an expectation it will continue. Thus, mutuality of support between legislator and constituent is inevitable. Constituent contributions to a Congressman and his support of constituent interests will repeatedly coincide in time or closely follow one another. It will be the rare Congressman who never accepts campaign contributions from persons or interests whose view he has supported or will support, by speech making, voting, or bargaining with fellow legislators.
All of this, or mot of it, may be wholly within the law and consistent with contemporary standards of political ethics. Nevertheless, the opportunities for an Executive, in whose sole discretion the decision to prosecute rests under the statute before us, to claim that legislative conduct has been sold are obvious and undeniable. These opportunities, inherent in the political process as it now exists, create an enormous potential for executive control of legislative behavior by threats or suggestions of criminal prosecution -- precisely the evil that the Speech or Debate Clause was designed to prevent.
Neither the majority opinion nor the statute under which Brewster is charged distinguishes between campaign contributions and payments designed for or put to personal use. To arm the Executive with the power to prosecute for taking political contributions in return for an agreement to introduce or support particular legislation or policies is to vest enormous leverage in the Executive and the courts. Members of Congress may find themselves in the dilemma of being forced to conduct themselves contrary to the interests of those who provide financial support or declining that support. They may also feel constrained to listen less often to the entreaties and demands of potential contributors. The threat of prosecution for supposed missteps that [p559] are difficult to define and fall close to the line of what ordinarily is considered permissible, even necessary, conduct scarcely ensures that legislative independence that is the root of the Speech or Debate Clause.
Even if the statute and this indictment were deemed limited to payments clearly destined for, or actually put to, personal use in exchange for a promise to perform a legislative act, the Speech or Debate Clause would still be offended. The potential for executive harassment is not diminished merely because the conduct made criminal is more clearly defined. A Member of Congress becomes vulnerable to abuse each time he makes a promise to a constituent on a matter over which he has some degree of legislative power, and the possibility of harassment can inhibit his exercise of power as well as his relations with constituents. In addition, such a prosecution presents the difficulty of defining when money obtained by a legislator is destined for or has been put to personal use. For the legislator who uses both personal funds and campaign contributions to maintain himself in office, the choice of which to draw upon may have more to do with bookkeeping than bribery; yet any interchange of funds would certainly render his conduct suspect. Even those Members of Congress who keep separate accounts for campaign contributions but retain unrestricted drawing rights would remain open to a charge that the money was, in fact, for personal use. In both cases, the possibility of a bribery prosecution presents the problem of determining exactly those purposes for which campaign contributions can legitimately be used. The difficulty of drawing workable lines enhances the prospects for executive control and correspondingly diminishes congressional freedom of action.
The majority does not deny the potential for executive control that inheres in sanctioning this prosecution. Instead, it purports to define the problem away by asserting [p560] that the Speech or Debate Clause reaches only prosecutions for legislative conduct and that a promise to vote for a bill, as distinguished from the vote itself, does not amount to a legislative act. The implication is that a prosecution based upon a corrupt promise no more offends the Speech or Debate Clause than the prosecution of a Congressman for assault, robbery, or murder. The power to prosecute may threaten legislative independence, but the Constitution does not, for that reason, forbid it. I find this unpersuasive.
The fact that the Executive may prosecute Members of Congress for ordinary criminal conduct, which surely he can despite the potential for influencing legislative conduct, cannot itself demonstrate that prosecutions for corrupt promises to perform legislative acts would be equally constitutional. The argument proves too much, for it would as surely authorize prosecutions for the legislative act itself. Moreover, there is a fundamental difference in terms of potential abuse between prosecutions for ordinary crime and those based upon a promise to perform a legislative act. Even the most vocal detractor of Congress could not accurately maintain that the Executive would often have credible basis for accusing a member of Congress of murder, theft, rape, or other such crimes. But the prospects for asserting an arguably valid claim are far wider in scope for an Executive prone to fish in legislative waters and to search for correlations between legislative performance and financial support. The possibilities are indeed endless, as is the potential for abuse.
The majority ignores another vital difference between executive authority to prosecute for ordinary crime and the power to challenge undertakings or conspiracies to corrupt the legislative process. In a prosecution for drunken driving or assault, the manner in which a Congressman performed his legislative tasks is quite irrelevant [p561] to either prosecution or defense. In the trial of a Congressman for making a corrupt promise to vote, on the other hand, proof that his vote was, in fact, contrary to the terms of the alleged bargain will make a strong defense. See United States v. Johnson, 383 U.S. at 176-177. A Congressman who knows he is under investigation for a corrupt undertaking will be well advised to conduct his affairs in a manner wholly at odds with the theory of the charge which may be lodged against him. As a practical matter, to prosecute a Congressman for agreeing to accept money in exchange for a promise to perform a legislative act inherently implicates legislative conduct. And to divine a distinction between promise and performance is wholly at odds with protecting that legislative independence that is the heart of the Speech or Debate Clause.
Congress itself clearly did not make the distinction that the majority finds dispositive. The statute before us is a comprehensive effort to sanitize the legislative environment. It expressly permits prosecutions of members of Congress for voting or promising to vote in exchange for money. The statute does not concern itself with murder or other undertakings unrelated to the legislative process. Congress no doubt believed it consistent with the Speech or Debate Clause to authorize executive prosecutions for corrupt voting. Equally obvious is the fact that Congress drew no distinction in legislative terms between prosecutions based upon voting and those based upon motivations underlying legislative conduct.
The arguments that the majority now embraces were the very contentions that the Government made in United States v. Johnson, supra. In rejecting those arguments on the facts of that case, where legislative conduct as well as a prior conspiracy formed a major part of the Government's proof, the Court referred with [p562] approval to Ex parte Wason, L.R. 4 Q.B. 573 (1869), in which the question was whether members of the House of Lords could be prosecuted for a conspiracy to prevent presentation of a petition on the floor of Lords. Johnson, supra, at 183, sets out the reaction of the English court:
The court denied the motion, stating that statements made in the House
could not be made the foundation of civil or criminal proceedings. . . . And a conspiracy to make such statements would not make the person guilty of it amenable to the criminal law.
Id. at 576. (Cockburn, C.J.) Mr. Justice Lush added,
I am clearly of opinion that we ought not to allow it to be doubted for a moment that the motives or intentions of members of either House cannot be inquired into by criminal proceedings with respect to anything they may do or say in the House.
Id. at 577.
The Wason court clearly refused to distinguish between promise and performance; the legislative privilege applied to both. Mr. Justice Harlan, writing for the Court in Johnson, took no issue with this position. Indeed, he indicated that the Speech or Debate Clause barred any prosecution under a general statute where there is drawn in question "the legislative acts of . . . the member of Congress or his motives for performing them." 383 U.S. at 185 (emphasis added). I find it difficult to believe that, under the statute there involved, the Johnson Court would have permitted a prosecution based upon a promise to perform a legislative act.
Because it gives a begrudging interpretation to the clause, the majority finds it can avoid dealing with the position upon which the Government placed principal reliance in its brief in this Court. Johnson put aside the question whether an otherwise impermissible prosecution [p563] conducted pursuant to a statute such as we now have before us -- a statute specifically including congressional conduct and purporting to be an exercise of congressional power to discipline its Members -- would be consistent with the Speech or Debate Clause. As must be apparent from what so far has been said, I am convinced that such a statute contravenes the letter and purpose of the Clause. True, Congress itself has defined the crime and specifically delegated to the Executive the discretion to prosecute and to the courts the power to try. Nonetheless, I fail to understand how a majority of Congress can bind an objecting Congressman to a course so clearly at odds with the constitutional command that legislative conduct shall be subject to question in no place other than the Senate or the House of Representatives. The Speech or Debate Clause is an allocation of power. It authorizes Congress to call offending members to account in their appropriate Houses. A statute that represents an abdication of that power is, in my view, impermissible.
I return to the beginning. The Speech or Debate Clause does not immunize corrupt Congressmen. It reserves the power to discipline in the Houses of Congress. I would insist that those Houses develop their own institutions and procedures for dealing with those in their midst who would prostitute the legislative process.
* In Gravel v. United States, post, p. 606, it is held that the Speech or Debate Clause does not immunize criminal acts performed in preparation for or execution of a legislative act. But the unprotected acts referred to there were criminal in themselves, provable without reference to a legislative act and without putting the defendant Member to the task of defending the integrity of his legislative performance. Here, as stated, the crime charged necessarily implicates the Member's legislative duties.