CRS Annotated Constitution
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Procedural Due Process
In 1855, the Court first attempted to assess its standards for judging what was due process. At issue was the constitutionality of summary proceedings under a distress warrant to levy on the lands of a government debtor. The Court first ascertained that Congress was not free to make any process “due process.” “To what principles, then are we to resort to ascertain whether this process, enacted by congress, is due process? To this the answer must be twofold. We must examine the constitution itself, to see whether this process be in conflict with any of its provisions. If not found to be so, we must look to those settled usages and modes of proceedings existing in the common and statute law of England, before the emigration of our ancestors and which are shown not to have been unsuited to their civil and political condition by having been acted on by them after the settlement of this country.” A survey of history disclosed that the law in England seemed always to have contained a summary method for recovering debts owned the Crown not unlike the law in question. Thus, “tested by the common and statute law of England prior to the emigration of our ancestors, and by the laws of many of the States at the time of the adoption of this amendment, the proceedings authorized by the act of 1820 cannot be denied to be due process of law. . . .”22
This formal approach to the meaning of due process could obviously have limited both Congress and the state legislatures in the development of procedures unknown to English law. But when California’s abandonment of indictment by grand jury was challenged, the Court refused to be limited by the fact that such proceeding was the English practice and that Coke had indicated that it was a proceeding required as “the law of the land.” The meaning of the Court in Murray’s Lessee was “that a process of law, which is not otherwise forbidden, must be taken to be due process of law, if it can show the sanction of settled usage both in England and in this country; but it by no means follows that nothing else can be due process of law.” To hold that only historical, traditional procedures can constitute due process, the Court said, “would be to deny every quality of the law but its age, and to render it incapable[p.1348]of progress or improvement.”23 Therefore, in observing the due process guarantee, it was concluded, the Court must look “not [to] particular forms of procedures, but [to] the very substance of individual rights to life, liberty, and property.” The due process clause prescribed “the limits of those fundamental principles of liberty and justice which lie at the base of all our civil and political institutions. . . . It follows that any legal proceeding enforced by public authority, whether sanctioned by age and custom, or newly devised in the discretion of the legislative power, in furtherance of the general public good, which regards and preserves these principles of liberty and justice, must be held to be due process of law.”24
Generally.—The phrase “due process of law” does not necessarily imply a proceeding in a court or a plenary suit and trial by jury in every case where personal or property rights are involved.25 “In all cases, that kind of procedure is due process of law which is suitable and proper to the nature of the case, and sanctioned by the established customs and usages of the courts.”26 What is unfair in one situation may be fair in another.27 “The precise nature of the interest that has been adversely affected, the manner in which this was done, the reasons for doing it, the available alternatives to the procedure that was followed, the protection implicit in the office of the functionary whose conduct is challenged, the balance of hurt complained of and good accomplished—these are some of the considerations that must enter into the judicial judgment.”28
Administrative Proceedings: A Fair Hearing.—With respect to action taken by administrative agencies, the Court has held that the demands of due process do not require a hearing at the initial stage, or at any particular point in the proceeding, so long as a hearing is held before the final order becomes effective.29 In Bowles v. Willingham,30 the Court sustained orders fixing maximum rents issued without a hearing at any stage, saying “where Congress has provided for judicial review after the regulations or[p.1349]orders have been made effective it has done all that due process under the war emergency requires.” But where, after consideration of charges brought against an employer by a complaining union, the National Labor Relations Board undertook to void an agreement between an employer and another independent union, the latter was entitled to notice and an opportunity to participate in the proceedings.31 Although a taxpayer must be afforded a fair opportunity for hearing in connection with the collection of taxes,32 collection by distraint of personal property is lawful if the taxpayer is allowed a hearing thereafter.33
When the Constitution requires a hearing it requires a fair one, held before a tribunal which meets currently prevailing standards of impartiality.34 A party must be given an opportunity not only to present evidence, but also to know the claims of the opposing party and to meet them. Those who are brought into contest with the Government in a quasi–judicial proceeding aimed at control of their activities are entitled to be fairly advised of what the Government proposes and to be heard upon the proposal before the final command is issued.35 But a variance between the charges and findings will not invalidate administrative proceedings where the record shows that at no time during the hearing was there any[p.1350]misunderstanding as to the basis of the complaint.36 The mere admission of evidence which would be inadmissible in judicial proceedings does not vitiate the order of an administrative agency.37 A provision that such a body shall not be controlled by rules of evidence does not, however, justify orders without a foundation in evidence having rational probative force. Hearsay may be received in an administrative hearing and may constitute by itself substantial evidence in support of an agency determination, provided that there are present factors which assure the underlying reliability and probative value of the evidence and, at least in the case at hand, where the claimant before the agency had the opportunity to subpoena the witnesses and cross–examine them with regard to the evidence.38 While the Court has recognized that in some circumstances a “fair hearing” implies a right to oral argument,39 it has refused to lay down a general rule that would cover all cases.40
In the light of the historically unquestioned power of a commanding officer summarily to exclude civilians from the area of his command, and applicable Navy regulations which confirm this authority, together with a stipulation in the contract between a restaurant concessionaire and the Naval Gun Factory forbidding employment on the premises of any person not meeting security requirements, due process was not denied by the summary exclusion on security grounds of the concessionaire’s cook, without hearing or advice as to the basis for the exclusion. The Fifth Amendment does not require a trial–type hearing in every conceivable case of governmental impairment of private interest.41 Since the Civil Rights[p.1351]Commission acts solely as an investigative and fact–finding agency and makes no adjudications, the Court, in Hannah v. Larche,42 upheld supplementary rules of procedure adopted by the Commission, independently of statutory authorization, under which state electoral officials and others accused of discrimination and summoned to appear at its hearings, are not apprised of the identity[p.1352]of their accusers, and witnesses, including the former, are not accorded a right to confront and cross–examine witnesses or accusers testifying at such hearings. Such procedural rights, the Court maintained, have not been granted by grand juries, congressional committees, or administrative agencies conducting purely fact–finding investigations in no way determining private rights.
Aliens: Entry and Deportation.—To aliens who have never been naturalized or acquired any domicile or residence in the United States, the decision of an executive or administrative officer, acting within powers expressly conferred by Congress, with regard to whether or not they shall be permitted to enter the country, is due process of law.43 Since the status of a resident alien returning from abroad is equivalent to that of an entering alien, his exclusion by the Attorney General without a hearing, on the basis of secret, undisclosed information, also is deemed consistent with due process.44 The complete authority of Congress in the matter of admission of aliens justifies delegation of power to executive officers to enforce the exclusion of aliens afflicted with contagious diseases by imposing upon the owner of the vessel bringing any such alien into the country a money penalty, collectible before and as a condition of the grant of clearance.45 If the person seeking admission claims American citizenship, the decision of the Secretary of Labor may be made final, but it must be made after a fair hearing, however summary, and must find adequate support in the evidence. A decision based upon a record from which relevant and probative evidence has been omitted is not a fair hearing.46 Where the statute made the decision of an immigration inspector final unless an appeal was[p.1353]taken to the Secretary of the Treasury, a person who failed to take such an appeal did not, by an allegation of citizenship, acquire a right to a judicial hearing on habeas corpus.47
Deportation proceedings are not criminal prosecutions within the meaning of the Bill of Rights.48 The authority to deport is drawn from the power of Congress to regulate the entrance of aliens and impose conditions upon their continued liberty to reside within the United States. Findings of fact reached by executive officers after a fair, though summary deportation hearing may be made conclusive.49 In Wong Yang Sung v. McGrath,50 however, the Court intimated that a hearing before a tribunal which did not meet the standards of impartiality embodied in the Administrative Procedure Act51 might not satisfy the requirements of due process of law. To avoid such constitutional doubts, the Court construed the law to disqualify immigration inspectors as presiding officers in deportation proceedings. Except in time of war, deportation without a fair hearing or on charges unsupported by any evidence is a de[p.1354]nial of due process which may be corrected on habeas corpus.52 In contrast with the decision in United States v. Ju Toy53 that a person seeking entrance to the United States was not entitled to a judicial hearing on his claim of citizenship, a person arrested and held for deportation is entitled to a day in court if he denies that he is an alien.54 A closely divided Court has ruled that in time of war the deportation of an enemy alien may be ordered summarily by executive action; due process of law does not require the courts to determine the sufficiency of any hearing which is gratuitously afforded to the alien.55
Judicial Review of Administrative Proceedings.—To the extent that constitutional rights are involved, due process of law imports a judicial review of the action of administrative or executive officers. This proposition is undisputed so far as questions of law are concerned, but the extent to which the courts should and will go in reviewing determinations of fact has been a highly controversial issue. In St. Joseph Stock Yards Co. v. United States,56 the Court held that upon review of an order of the Secretary of Agriculture establishing maximum rates for services rendered by a stockyard company, due process required that the court exercise its independent judgment upon the facts to determine whether the rates were confiscatory.57 Subsequent cases sustaining rate orders of the Federal Power Commission have not dealt explicitly with this point.58 The Court has said simply that a person assailing such an order “carries the heavy burden of making a convincing showing that it is invalid because it is unjust and unreasonable in its consequences.”59[p.1355]
There has been a division of opinion in the Supreme Court with regard to what extent, if at all, proceedings before military tribunals should be reviewed by the courts for the purpose of determining compliance with the due process clause. In In re Yamashita,60 the majority denied a petition for certiorari and petitions for writs of habeas corpus to review the conviction of a Japanese war criminal by a military commission sitting in the Philippine Islands. It held that since the military commission, in admitting evidence to which objection was made, had not violated any act of Congress, a treaty, or a military command defining its authority, its ruling on evidence and on the mode of conducting the proceedings were not reviewable by the courts. Again, in Johnson v. Eisentrager,61 the Court overruled a lower court decision, which in reliance upon the dissenting opinion in the Yamashita case, had held that the due process clause required that the legality of the conviction of enemy alien belligerents by military tribunals should be tested by the writ of habeas corpus.
Without dissent, the Court, in Hiatt v. Brown,62 reversed the judgment of a lower court which had discharged a prisoner serving a sentence imposed by a court–martial because of errors whereby the prisoner had been deprived of due process of law. The Court held that the court below had erred in extending its review, for the purpose of determining compliance with the due process clause, to such matters as the propositions of law set forth in the staff judge advocate’s report, the sufficiency of the evidence to sustain conviction, the adequacy of the pre–trial investigation, and the competence of the law member and defense counsel. In summary, Justice Clark wrote: “In this case the court–martial had jurisdiction of the person accused and the offense charged, and acted within its lawful powers. The correction of any errors it may have committed is for the military authorities which are alone authorized to review its decision.”63 Similarly, in Burns v. Wilson,64 the Court denied a petition for the writ to review a conviction by a military tribunal on the Island of Guam wherein the petitioners asserted that their imprisonment resulted from proceedings violative of their basic constitutional rights. Four Justices, with whom Justice Minton concurred, maintained that judicial review is limited to determining whether the military tribunal, or court–martial, had given fair consideration to each of petitioners’ allegations, and does not embrace[p.1356]an opportunity “to prove de novo” what petitioners had “failed to prove in the military courts.” According to Justice Minton, however, if the military court had jurisdiction, its action is not reviewable.
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