Legislative Investigations and the First Amendment.

The power of inquiry by congressional and state legislative committees in order to develop information as a basis for legislation750 is subject to some uncertain limitation when the power as exercised results in deterrence or penalization of protected beliefs, associations, and conduct. Although the Court initially indicated that it would scrutinize closely such inquiries in order to curb First Amendment infringement,751 later cases balanced the interests of the legislative bodies in inquiring about both protected and unprotected associations and conduct against what were perceived to be limited restraints upon the speech and association rights of witnesses, and upheld wide-ranging committee investigations.752 Later, the Court placed the balance somewhat differently and required that the investigating agency show “a subordinating interest which is compelling” to justify the restraint on First Amendment rights that the Court found would result from the inquiry.753 The issues in this field, thus, remain unsettled.

Footnotes

750
See subtopics under “Investigations in Aid of Legislation,” supra. [Back to text]
751
See United States v. Rumely, 345 U.S. 41 (1953); Watkins v. United States, 354 U.S. 178, 197–98 (1957); Sweezy v. New Hampshire, 354 U.S. 234, 249–51 (1957). Concurring in the last case, Justices Frankfurter and Harlan would have ruled that the inquiry there was precluded by the First Amendment. Id. at 255. [Back to text]
752
Barenblatt v. United States, 360 U.S. 109 (1959); Uphaus v. Wyman, 360 U.S. 72 (1959); Wilkinson v. United States, 365 U.S. 399 (1961); Braden v. United States, 365 U.S. 431 (1961). Chief Justice Warren and Justices Black, Douglas, and Brennan dissented in each case. [Back to text]
753
Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Committee, 372 U.S. 539 (1963). Justices Harlan, Clark, Stewart, and White dissented. Id. at 576, 583. See also DeGregory v. Attorney General of New Hampshire, 383 U.S. 825 (1966). [Back to text]