|Gravel v. United States
[ White ]
[ Stewart ]
[ Douglas ]
[ Brennan ]
Gravel v. United States
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIRST CIRCUIT
MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN, with whom MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS and MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL join, dissenting.
The facts of this litigation, which are detailed by the Court, and the objections to overclassification of documents by the Executive, detailed by my Brother DOUGLAS, need not be repeated here. My concern is with the narrow scope accorded the Speech or Debate Clause by today's decision. I fully agree with the Court that a Congressman's immunity under the Clause must also be extended to his aides if it is to be at all effective. The complexities and press of congressional business make it impossible for a Member to function without the close cooperation of his legislative assistants. Their role as his agents in the performance of official duties requires that they share his immunity for those acts. The scope of that immunity, however, is as important as the persons to whom it extends. In my view, today's decision so restricts the privilege of speech or debate as to endanger the continued performance of legislative tasks that are vital to the workings of our democratic system. [p649]
In holding that Senator Gravel's alleged arrangement with Beacon Press to publish the Pentagon Papers is not shielded from extra-senatorial inquiry by the Speech or Debate Clause, the Court adopts what for me is a far too narrow view of the legislative function. The Court seems to assume that words spoken in debate or written in congressional reports are protected by the Clause, so that, if Senator Gravel had recited part of the Pentagon Papers on the Senate floor or copied them into a Senate report, those acts could not be questioned "in any other Place." Yet because he sought a wider audience, to publicize information deemed relevant to matters pending before his own committee, the Senator suddenly loses his immunity and is exposed to grand jury investigation and possible prosecution for the republication. The explanation for this anomalous result is the Court's belief that "Speech or Debate" encompasses only acts necessary to the internal deliberations of Congress concerning proposed legislation. "Here," according to the Court, "private publication by Senator Gravel through the cooperation of Beacon Press was in no way essential to the deliberations of the Senate." Ante at 625. Therefore, "the Senator's arrangements with Beacon Press were not part and parcel of the legislative process." Id. at 626.
Thus, the Court excludes from the sphere of protected legislative activity a function that I had supposed lay at the heart of our democratic system. I speak, of course, of the legislator's duty to inform the public about matters affecting the administration of government. That this "informing function" fall into the class of thing "generally done in a session of the House by one of its members in relation to the business before it," Kilbourn v. Thompson, 103 U.S. 168, 204 (1881), was explicitly acknowledged by the Court in Watkins [p650] v. United States, 354 U.S. 178 (1957). In speaking of the "power of the Congress to inquire into and publicize corruption, maladministration or inefficiency in agencies of the Government," the Court noted that, "[f]rom the earliest times in its history, the Congress has assiduously performed an ‘informing function' of this nature." Id. at 200 n. 33.
We need look no further than Congress itself to find evidence supporting the Court's observation in Watkins. Congress has provided financial support for communications between its Members and the public, including the franking privilege for letters, telephone and telegraph allowances, stationery allotments, and favorable prices on reprints from the Congressional Record. Congressional hearings, moreover, are not confined to gathering information for internal distribution, but are often widely publicized, sometimes televised, as a means of alerting the electorate to matters of public import and concern. The list is virtually endless, but a small sampling of contemporaneous hearings of this kind would certainly include the Kefauver hearings on organized crime, the 1966 hearings on automobile safety, and the numerous hearings of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the origins and conduct of the war in Vietnam. In short, there can be little doubt that informing the electorate is a thing "generally done" by the Members of Congress "in relation to the business before it."
The informing function has been cited by numerous students of American politics, both within and without the Government, as among the most important responsibilities of legislative office. Woodrow Wilson, for example, emphasized its role in preserving the separation of powers by ensuring that the administration of public policy by the Executive is understood by the legislature and electorate:
It is the proper duty of a representative body to look diligently into every affair of government [p651] and to talk much about what it sees. It is meant to be the eyes and the voice, and to embody the wisdom and will of its constituents. Unless Congress have and use every means of acquainting itself with the act and the disposition of the administrative agents of the government, the country must be helpless to learn how it is being served; and unless Congress both scrutinize these things and sift them by every form of discussion, the country must remain in embarrassing, crippling ignorance of the very affairs which it is most important that it should understand and direct.
Congressional Government 303 (1885). Others have viewed the give-and-take of such communication as an important means of educating both the legislator and his constituents:
With the decline of Congress as an original source of legislation, this function of keeping the government in touch with public opinion and of keeping public opinion in touch with the conduct of the government becomes increasingly important. Congress no longer governs the country; the Administration in all its ramifications actually governs. But Congress serves as a forum through which public opinion can be expressed, general policy discussed, and the conduct of governmental affairs exposed and criticized.
The Reorganization of Congress, A Report of the Committee on Congress of the American Political Science Association 14 (1945). Though I fully share these and related views on the educational values served by the informing function, there is yet another, and perhaps more fundamental, interest at stake. It requires no citation of authority to state that public concern over current issue -- the war, race relations, governmental invasions of privacy -- [p652] has transformed itself in recent years into what many believe is a crisis of confidence in our system of government and its capacity to meet the needs and reflect the wants of the American people. Communication between Congress and the electorate tends to alleviate that doubt by exposing and clarifying the workings of the political system, the policies underlying new laws, and the role of the Executive in their administration. To the extent that the informing function succeeds in fostering public faith in the responsiveness of Government, it is not only an "ordinary" task of the legislator, but one that is essential to the continued vitality of our democratic institution.
Unlike the Court, therefore, I think that the activities of Congressmen in communicating with the public are legislative acts protected by the Speech or Debate Clause. I agree with the Court that not every task performed by a legislator is privileged; intervention before Executive departments is one that is not. But the informing function carries a far more persuasive claim to the protections of the Clause. It has been recognized by this Court as something "generally done" by Congressmen, the Congress itself has established special concessions designed to lower the cost of such communication, and, most important, the function furthers several well recognized goals of representative government. To say in the face of these facts that the informing function is not privileged merely because it is not necessary to the internal deliberations of Congress is to give the Speech or Debate Clause an artificial and narrow reading unsupported by reason.
Nor can it be supported by history. There is substantial evidence that the Framers intended the Speech or Debate Clause to cover all communication from a Congressman to his constituents. Thomas Jefferson clearly expressed that view of legislative privilege in a [p653] case involving Samuel Cabell, Congressman from Virginia. In 1797, a federal grand jury in Virginia investigated the conduct of several Congressmen, including Cabell, in sending newsletters to constituents critical of the administration's policy in the war with France. The grand jury found that the Congressmen had endeavored,
at a time of real public danger, to disseminate unfounded calumnies against the happy government of the United States, and thereby to separate the people therefrom; and to increase or produce a foreign influence, ruinous to the peace, happiness, and independence of these United States.
Jefferson immediately drafted a long essay, signed by himself and, several citizens of Cabell's district, condemning the grand jury investigation as a blatant violation of the congressional privilege. Revised and joined by James Madison, the protest was forwarded to the Virginia House of Delegates. It reads in part as follows:
[T]hat in order to give to the will of the people the influence it ought to have, and the information which may enable them to exercise it usefully, it was a part of the common law, adopted as the law of this land, that their representatives, in the discharge of their functions, should be free from the cognizance or coercion of the coordinate branches, Judiciary and Executive, and that their communications with their constituents should, of right as of duty also, be free, full, and unawed by any; that so necessary has this intercourse been deemed in the country from which they derive principally their descent and laws that the correspondence between the representative and constituent is privileged there to pass free of expense through the channel of the public post, and that the proceedings of the legislature have been known to be arrested and suspended at times until the Representative [p654] could go home to their several counties and confer with their constituents.
* * * *
That when circumstances required that the ancient confederation of this with the sister States, for the government of their common concerns, should be improved into a more regular and effective form of general government, the same representative principle was preserved in the new legislature, one branch of which was to be chosen directly by the citizens of each State, and the laws and principles remained unaltered which privileged the representative functions, whether to be exercised in the State or General Government, against the cognizance and notice of the coordinate branches, Executive and Judiciary; and for its safe and convenient exercise, the intercommunication of the representative and constituent has been sanctioned and provided for through the channel of the public post at the public expense.
* * * *
That the grand jury is a part of the Judiciary, not permanent indeed, but in office, pro hac vice and responsible as other judges are for their actings and doings while in office; that, for the Judiciary to interpose in the legislative department between the constituent and his representative, to control them in the exercise of their functions or duties towards each other, to overawe the free correspondence which exists and ought to exist between them, to dictate what communications may pass between them, and to punish all others, to put the representative into jeopardy of criminal prosecution, of vexation, expense, and punishment before the Judiciary, if his communications, public or private, do not exactly square with their ideas of fact or right, or with their designs of wrong, is to put the legislative department [p655] under the feet of the Judiciary, is to leave us, indeed, the shadow, but to take away the substance of representation, which requires essentially that the representative be as free as his constituents would be, that the same interchange of sentiment be lawful between him and them as would be lawful among themselves were they in the personal transaction of their own business; is to do away the influence of the people over the proceedings of their representatives by excluding from their knowledge, by the terror of punishment, all but such information or misinformation as may suit their own views; and is the more vitally dangerous when it is considered that grand jurors are selected by officers nominated and holding their places at the will of the Executive . . . ; and finally, is to give to the Judiciary, and through them to the Executive, a complete preponderance over the legislature rendering ineffectual that wise and cautious distribution of powers made by the constitution between the three branches, and subordinating to the other two that branch which most immediately depends on the people themselves, and is responsible to them at short periods.
8 The Works of Thomas Jefferson 322-327 (Ford ed. 104). Jefferson's protest is perhaps the most significant and certainly the most cogent analysis of the privileged nature of communication between Congressman and public. Its comments on the history, purpose, and scope of the Clause leave no room for the notion that the Executive or Judiciary can in any way question the contents of that dialogue. Nor was Jefferson alone among the Framers in that view. Aside from Madison, who joined in the protest, James Wilson took the position that a member of Congress
should enjoy the fullest liberty of speech, and . . . should be protected from [p656] the resentment of every one, however powerful, to whom the exercise of that liberty may occasion offence.
1 Works of James Wilson 421 (R. McCloskey ed.1967). Wilson, a member of the Committee responsible for drafting the Speech or Debate Clause, stated in plainest terms his belief in the duty of Congressmen to inform the people about proceedings in the Congress:
That the conduct and proceedings of representatives should be as open a possible to the inspection of those whom they represent seems to be, in republican government, a maxim of whose truth or importance the smallest doubt cannot be entertained. That, by a necessary consequence, every measure, which will facilitate or secure this open communication of the exercise of delegated power should be adopted and patronised by the constitution and laws of every free state seems to be another maxim which is the unavoidable result of the former.
Id. at 422. Wilson's statements, like those of Jefferson and Madison, reflect a deep conviction of the Framers, that self-government can succeed only when the people are informed by their representatives, without interference by the Executive or Judiciary, concerning the conduct of their agents in government. That conviction is no less valid today than it was at the time of our founding. I would honor the clear intent of the Framers and extend to the informing function the protections embodied in the Speech or Debate Clause.
The Court, however, offers not a shred of evidence concerning the Framers' intent, but relies instead on the English view of legislative privilege to support its interpretation of the Clause. Like the Court itself, ante at 623-624, n. 14, I have some doubt concerning the relevance of English authority to this case, particularly authority postdating the adoption of our Constitution. But [p657] in any event it is plain that the Court has misread the history on which it relies. The Speech or Debate Clause of the English Bill of Rights was at least in part the product of a struggle between Parliament and Crown over the very type of activity involved in this litigation. During the reign of Charles II, the House of Commons received a number of reports about an alleged plot between the Crown and the King of France to restore Catholicism as the established religion of England. The most famous of these reports, Dangerfield's Narrative, was entered into the Commons Journal and then republished by order of the Speaker of the House, Sir William Williams, with the consent of Commons. In 1686, after James II came to the throne, informations charging libel were filed against Williams in King's Bench. Despite the arguments of his attorney, Sir Robert Atkyns, that the publication was necessary to the "counseling" and "enquiring" functions of Parliament, Williams' plea of privilege was rejected and he was fined £10,000. Shortly after Williams' conviction, James II was sent into exile, and a committee was appointed by the House of Commons to report upon "such things a are absolutely necessary for securing the Laws and Liberties of the Nation." 9 Debates of the House of Commons, coll. by A. Grey, 1763, p. 37. In reporting to the House, the chairman of the committee stated that the provision for freedom of speech and debate was included "for the sake of one . . . Sir William Williams, who was punished out of Parliament for what he had done in Parliament." Id. at 81. Following consultation with the House of Lords, that provision was included as part of the English Bill of Rights, and the judgment against Williams was declared by Commons "illegal and subversive of the freedom of parliament." 1 W. Townsend, Memoirs of the House of Commons 414 (2d ed. 1844).
Although the origins of the Speech or Debate Clause in [p658] England can thus be traced to a case involving republication, the Court, citing Stockdale v. Hansard, 9 Ad. & E. 1, 112 Eng.Rep. 1112 (K.B. 1839), says that "English legislative privilege was not viewed as protecting republication of an otherwise immune libel on the floor of the House." Ante at 622. That conclusion reflects an erroneous reading of precedent. Stockdale did state that, "if the calumnious or inflammatory speeches should be reported and published, the law will attach responsibility on the publisher." Id. at 114, 112 Eng.Rep. at 1156. But Stockdale concerned only the publisher's liability, not that of a member of Parliament; thus, it has little bearing on the instant case. Furthermore, contrary to the Court's assertion, ante at 623-624, n. 14, even the narrow result of Stockdale was repudiated 30 years later in Wason v. Walter, L.R. 4 Q.B. 73 (1868), for reasons strikingly similar to those expressed by Jefferson in his protest. [n1] In [p659] my view, therefore, the English precedent, if relevant at all, supports Senator Gravel's position here.
Thus, from the standpoint of function or history, it is plain that Senator Gravel's dissemination of material, [p660] placed by him in the record of a congressional hearing, is itself legislative activity protected by the privilege of speech or debate. Whether or not that privilege protects the publisher from prosecution or the Senator from senatorial discipline, it certainly shields the Senator from any grand jury inquiry about his part in the publication. As we held in United States v. Johnson, 383 U.S. 169 (1966), neither a Congressman, nor his aides, nor third parties may be made to testify concerning privileged act or their motives. That immunity, which protects legislators "from deterrents to the uninhibited discharge of their legislative duty," Tenney v. Brandhove, 341 U.S. 367, 377 (1951), is the essence of the Clause, designed not for the legislators' "private indulgence, but for the public good." Id. at 377.
That privilege, moreover, may not be defeated merely because a court finds that the publication was irregular or the material irrelevant to legislative business. Legislative immunity secures
to every member exemption from prosecution, for everything said or done by him, as a representative, in the exercise of the functions of that office . . . whether the exercise was regular according to the rules of the house, or irregular and against their rules.
Coffin v. Coffin, 4 Mass. 1, 27 (1808). Thus, if the republication of this committee record was unauthorized or even prohibited by the Senate rule, it [p661] is up to the Senate, not the Executive or Judiciary, to fashion the appropriate sanction to discipline Senator Gravel.
Similarly, the Government cannot strip Senator Gravel of the immunity by asserting that his conduct "did not relate to any pending Congressional business." Brief for United States 41. The Senator has stated that his hearing on the Pentagon Papers had a direct bearing on the work of his Subcommittee on Buildings and Grounds, because of the effect of the Vietnam war on the domestic economy and the lack of sufficient federal funds to provide adequate public facilities. If, in fact, the Senator is wrong in this contention, and his conduct at the hearing exceeded the subcommittee's jurisdiction, then again it is the Senate that must call him to task. This Court has permitted congressional witnesses to defend their refusal to answer questions on the ground of nongermaneness. Watkins v. United States, 354 U.S. 178 (1957). Here, however, it is the Executive that seeks the aid of the judiciary, not to protect individual rights, but to extend its power of inquiry and interrogation into the privileged domain of the legislature. In my view, the Court should refuse to turn the freedom of speech or debate on the Government's notions of legislative propriety and relevance. We would weaken the very structure of our constitutional system by becoming a partner in this assault on the separation of powers.
Whether the Speech or Debate Clause extends to the informing function is an issue whose importance goes beyond the fate of a single Senator or Congressman. What is at stake is the right of an elected representative to inform, and the public to be informed, about matters relating directly to the workings of our Government. The dialogue between Congress and people has been recognized, from the days of our founding, as one of the necessary elements of a representative system. [p662] We should not retreat from that view merely because, in the course of that dialogue, information may be revealed that is embarrassing to the other branches of government or violates their notions of necessary secrecy. A Member of Congress who exceeds the bounds of propriety in performing this official task may be called to answer by the other Members of his chamber. We do violence to the fundamental concepts of privilege, however, when we subject that same conduct to judicial scrutiny at the instance of the Executive. [n2] The threat of "prosecution by an unfriendly executive and conviction by a hostile judiciary," United States v. Johnson, 383 U.S. at 17, that the Clause was designed to avoid, can only lead to timidity in the performance of this vital function. The Nation as a whole benefits from the congressional investigation and exposure of official corruption and deceit. It likewise suffers when that exposure is replaced by muted criticism, carefully hushed behind congressional walls.
Equally troubling in today's decision is the Court's refusal to bar grand jury inquiry into the source of documents received by the Senator and placed by him in the hearing record. The receipt of materials for use in a congressional hearing is an integral part of the preparation for that legislative act. In United States v. Johnson, supra, the Court acknowledged the privileged nature of such preparatory steps, holding that they, like the act itself and its motives, must be shielded from scrutiny by the Executive and Judiciary. That holding merely recognized the obvious -- that speeches, [p663] hearings, and the casting of votes require study and planning in advance. It would accomplish little toward the goal of legislative freedom to exempt an official act from intimidating scrutiny if other conduct leading up to the act and intimately related to it could be deterred by a similar threat. The reasoning that guided that Court in Johnson is no less persuasive today, and I see no basis, nor does the Court offer any, for departing from it here. I would hold that Senator Gravel's receipt of the Pentagon Papers, including the name of the person from whom he received them, may not be the subject of inquiry by the grand jury. I would go further, however, and also exclude from grand jury inquiry any knowledge that the Senator or his aides might have concerning how the source himself first came to possess the Papers. This immunity, it seems to me, is essential to the performance of the informing function. Corrupt and deceitful officers of government do not often post for public examination the evidence of their own misdeeds. That evidence must be ferreted out, and often is, by fellow employees and subordinates. Their willingness to reveal that information and spark congressional inquiry may well depend on assurances from their contact in Congress that their identities and means of obtaining the evidence will be held in strictest confidence. To permit the grand jury to frustrate that expectation through an inquiry of the Congressman and his aides can only dampen the flow of information to the Congress, and thus to the American people. There is a similar risk, of course, when the Member's own House requires him to break the confidence. But the danger, it seems to me, is far less if the Member's colleagues, and not an "unfriendly executive" or "hostile judiciary," are charged with evaluating the propriety of his conduct. In any event, assuming that a Congressman can be required to reveal the [p664] sources of his information and the methods used to obtain that information, that power of inquiry, as required by the Clause, is that of the Congressman's House, and of that House only.
I respectfully dissent.
1. In Wason, the proprietor of the London Times was sued for printing an account of a libelous debate in the House of Lords. The court agreed with Stockdale that the House did not have final authority to determine the scope of its privileges, and thus could not confer immunity on any publisher merely by ordering a document printed and then declaring it privileged. Indeed, the Wason court gave its "unhesitating and unqualified adhesion" to Stockdale on that point. Id. at 86. The only issue for the court, therefore, was whether the publication "is, independently of such order or assertion of privilege, in itself, privileged and lawful." Id. at 87. On that issue, the court severely criticized the reasoning of earlier cases, including Stockdale, stating that two of the Justices in that case had expressed a "very shortsighted view of the subject." Id. at 91. The court held that so long as the republication was accurate and in good faith, it could not be the basis of a libel action, and the member himself was privileged to publish his speech "for the information of his constituents." Id. at 95. Relying, not on the Parliamentary Papers Act of 1840, which was enacted in response to Stockdale, but on the analogy to judicial reports and the need for an informed public, the court stated:
It seems to us impossible to doubt that it is of paramount public and national importance that the proceedings of the houses of parliament shall be communicated to the public, who have the deepest interest in knowing what passes within their walls, seeing that, on what is there said and done, the welfare of the community depends. Where would be our confidence in the government of the country or in the legislature by which our laws are framed, and to whose charge the great interests of the country are committed -- where would be our attachment to the constitution under which we live -- if the proceedings of the great council of the realm were shrouded in secrecy and concealed from the knowledge of the nation? How could the communications between the representatives of the people and their constituents, which are so essential to the working of the representative system, be usefully carried on if the constituencies were kept in ignorance of what their representatives are doing? What would become of the right of petitioning on all measures pending in parliament, the undoubted right of the subject, if the people are to be kept in ignorance of what is passing in either house? Can any man bring himself to doubt that the publicity given in modern times to what passes in parliament is essential to the maintenance of the relations subsisting between the government, the legislature, and the country at large?
Id. at 89. The fact that the debate was published in violation of a standing order of Parliament was held to be irrelevant.
Independently of the orders of the houses, there is nothing unlawful in publishing reports of parliamentary proceedings. . . . [A]ny publication of its debates made in contravention of its orders would be a matter between the house and the publisher.
Id. at 95.
Whether Wason was based on parliamentary privilege or on an analogy to the publication of judicial proceedings is unimportant. What is important to the instant litigation is that Wason firmly rejected any implication in Stockdale that the informing function was not among the legislative activities that a member of Parliament was privileged to perform. Indeed, that same conclusion was reached by Sir Gilbert Campion, a noted scholar, in his memorandum to the House of Commons' Select Committee on the Official Secrets Acts. After reviewing the republication cases through Wason, the memorandum concluded:
If . . . a member circulated among his constituents a speech made by him in Parliament in which he had disclosed information [otherwise subject to the Official Secrets Acts], it might be held on the analogy of the principles which have been said to apply to prosecutions for libel that he could not be proceeded against for disclosing it to his constituents, unless, of course, the speech had been made in a secret session. Even if the suggested analogy is not admitted, it would be repugnant to common sense to hold that, though the original disclosure in the House was protected by parliamentary privilege, the circulation of the speech among the member's constituents was not.
Minutes of Evidence Taken before the Select Committee on the Official Secrets Acts 29 (1939).
2. Different considerations may apply, of course, where the republication is attacked not by the Executive, but by private persons seeking judicial redress for an alleged invasion of their constitutional right.