Contempt Power in Aid of Administrative Power.

Proceedings to enforce the orders of administrative agencies and subpoenas issued by them to appear and produce testimony have become increasingly common since the leading case of ICC v. Brimson,248 which held that the contempt power of the courts might by statutory authorization be used to aid the Interstate Commerce Commission in enforcing compliance with its orders. In 1947 a proceeding to enforce a subpoena duces tecum issued by the Securities and Exchange Commission during the course of an investigation was ruled to be civil in character on the ground that the only sanction was a penalty designed to compel obedience. The Court then enunciated the principle that, where a fine or imprisonment imposed on the contemnor is designed to coerce him to do what he has refused to do, the proceeding is one for civil contempt.249 Notwithstanding the power of administrative agencies to cite an individual for contempt, however, such bodies must be acting within the authority that has been lawfully delegated to them.250

Footnotes

248
154 U.S. 447 (1894). [Back to text]
249
Penfield Co. v. SEC, 330 U.S. 585 (1947). Note the dissent of Justice Frankfurter. For delegations of the subpoena power to administrative agencies and the use of judicial process to enforce them, see also McCrone v. United States, 307 U.S. 61 (1939); Endicott Johnson Corp. v. Perkins, 317 U.S. 501 (1943); Oklahoma Press Pub. Co. v. Walling, 327 U.S. 186 (1946). [Back to text]
250
Gojack v. United States, 384 U.S. 702 (1966). See also Sanctions of the Investigatory Power: Contempt, supra, for a discussion of Congress’s power to cite an individual for contempt by virtue of its investigatory duties, which is applicable, at least by analogy, to administrative agencies. [Back to text]