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Some Malefactor May Go Unwhipped Of Justice

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  • Legalbear
    The action of the commission finds no support in right principle or in law. It is wholly unreasonable and arbitrary. It violates the cardinal precept upon
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 5, 2013

      The action of the commission finds no support in right principle or in law. It is wholly unreasonable and arbitrary. It violates the cardinal precept upon which the constitutional safeguards of personal liberty ultimately rest -- that this shall be a government of laws -- , because to the precise extent that the mere will of an official or an official body is permitted to take the place of allowable official discretion or to supplant the standing law as a rule of human conduct, the government ceases to be one of laws and becomes an autocracy. Against the threat of such a contingency the courts have always been vigilant, and, if they are to perform their constitutional duties in the future, must never cease to be vigilant, to detect and turn aside the danger at its beginning. The admonition of Mr. Justice Bradley in Boyd v. United States, 116 U.S. 616, 635, should never be forgotten: "It may be that it is the obnoxious thing in its mildest and least repulsive form; but illegitimate and unconstitutional practices get their first footing in that way, namely, by silent approaches and slight deviations from legal modes of procedure. . . . It is the duty of courts to be watchful for the constitutional rights of the citizen, and against any stealthy encroachments thereon. Their motto should be obsta principiis."


      Arbitrary power and the rule of the Constitution cannot both exist. They are antagonistic and incompatible forces; and one or the other must of necessity perish whenever they are brought into conflict. To borrow the words of Mr. Justice Day -- "there is no place in our constitutional system for the exercise of arbitrary power." Garfield v. Goldsby, 211 U.S. 249, 262. To escape assumptions of such power on the part of the three primary departments of the government, is not enough. Our institutions must be kept free from the appropriation of unauthorized power by lesser agencies as well. And if the various administrative bureaus and commissions, necessarily called and being called into existence by the increasing complexities of our modern business and political affairs, are permitted gradually to extend their powers by encroachments -- even petty encroachments -- upon the fundamental rights, privileges and immunities of the people, we shall in the end, while avoiding the fatal consequences of a supreme autocracy, become submerged by a multitude of minor invasions of personal rights, less destructive but no less violative of constitutional guaranties. Jones v. SEC, 298 US 1, 23-4 (1936).


      An official inquisition to compel disclosures of fact is not an end, but a means to an end; and it is a mere truism to say that the end must be a legitimate one to justify the means. The citizen, when interrogated about his private affairs, has a right before answering to know why the inquiry is made; and if the purpose disclosed is not a legitimate one, he may not be compelled to answer. Jones v. SEC, 298 US 1, 25-6 (1936).


      In re Pacific Ry. Comm'n [32 Fed. 241, 250] involved the power of a Congressional commission to investigate the private affairs, books and papers of officers and employees of certain corporations indebted to the government. That commission called before it the president of one of these corporations, required the production of private books and papers for inspection, and submitted interrogatories which the witness declined to answer. Acting under the statute, the commission sought a peremptory order from the circuit court to compel the witness to answer the interrogatories. The court, consisting of Mr. Justice Field, Circuit Judge Sawyer, and District Judge Sabin. denied the motion of the district attorney for the order and discharged the rule to show cause. Opinions were rendered seriatim, the principal one by Justice Field. The authority of the commission was definitely denied. That decision has frequently been cited and approved by this court. Judge Sawyer, in the course of his opinion (at p. 263), after observing that a bill in equity seeking a discovery upon general, loose and vague allegations is styled "a fishing bill," and will, at once, be dismissed on that ground (Story, Eq. Pl. ยง 325), said: "A general, roving, offensive, inquisitorial, compulsory investigation, conducted by a commission without any allegations, upon no fixed principles, and governed by no rules of law, or of evidence, and no restrictions except its own will, or caprice, is unknown to our constitution and laws; and such an inquisition would be destructive of the rights of the citizen, and an intolerable tyranny. Let the power once be established, and there is no knowing, where the practice under it would end."


      The fear that some malefactor may go unwhipped of justice weighs as nothing against this just and strong condemnation of a practice so odious. And, indeed, the fear itself has little of substance upon which to rest. The federal courts are open to the government; and the grand jury abides as the appropriate constitutional medium for the preliminary investigation of crime and the presentment of the accused for trial.


      The philosophy that constitutional limitations and legal restraints upon official action may be brushed aside upon the plea that good, perchance, may follow, finds no countenance in the American system of government. An investigation not based upon specified grounds is quite as objectionable as a search warrant not based upon specific statements of fact. Such an investigation, or such a search, is unlawful in its inception and cannot be made lawful by what it may bring, or by what it actually succeeds in bringing, to light. Cf. Byars v. United States, 273 U.S. 28 (1927) and cases cited. If the action here of the commission be upheld, it follows that production and inspection may be enforced not only of books and private papers of the guilty, but those of the innocent as well, notwithstanding the proceeding for registration, so far as the power of the commission is concerned, has been brought to an end by the complete and legal withdrawal of the registration statement. Jones v. SEC, 298 US 1, 26-8 (1936).


      Exercise of "such a power would be more pernicious to the innocent than useful to the public"; and approval of it must be denied, if there were no other reason for denial, because, like an unlawful search for evidence, it falls upon the innocent as well as upon the guilty and unjustly confounds the two. Entick v. Carrington, 19 Howell's St. Trials, 1030, 1074 -- followed by this court in Boyd v. United States, 116 U.S. 616, 629-630. No one can read these two great opinions, and the opinions in the Pacific Ry. Comm'n case, from which the foregoing quotation is made, without perceiving how closely allied in principle are the three protective rights of the individual -- that against compulsory self-accusation, that against unlawful searches and seizures, and that against unlawful inquisitorial investigations. They were among those intolerable abuses of the Star Chamber, which brought that institution to an end at the hands of the Long Parliament in 1640. Even the shortest step in the direction of curtailing one of these rights must be halted in limine, lest it serve as a precedent for further advances in the same direction, or for wrongful invasions of the others. Jones v. SEC, 298 US 1, 28 (1936).


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