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WILKINSON V. UNITED STATES, 365 U. S. 399 (1961)

U.S. Supreme Court

Wilkinson v. United States, 365 U.S. 399 (1961)

Wilkinson v. United States

No. 37

Argued November 17, 1960

Decided February 27, 1961

365 U.S. 399


Summoned to testify before a Subcommittee of the House of Representatives Committee on Un-American Activities, which was investigating Communist infiltration into basic industries in the South and Communist Party propaganda activities in the South, petitioner refused to answer a question as to whether he was then a member of the Communist Party. He did not claim his privilege against self-incrimination, but contended that the Subcommittee was without lawful authority to interrogate him, and that its questioning violated his rights under the First Amendment. For refusing to answer, he was convicted of a violation of 2 U.S.C. § 192, which makes it a misdemeanor for any person summoned as a witness by either House of Congress or a committee thereof to refuse to answer any question pertinent to the question under inquiry.

Held: Petitioner's conviction is sustained. Pp. 365 U. S. 400-415.

1. The Committee's investigation of Communist infiltration into basic industries in the South and Communist propaganda activities in the South was clearly authorized by Congress. Barenblatt v. United States, 360 U. S. 109. Pp. 365 U. S. 407-409.

2. On this record, it cannot be said that, in questioning petitioner, the Subcommittee was not pursuing a valid legislative purpose. Pp. 365 U. S. 409-413.

(a) Petitioner's contention that the Subcommittee's sole reason for interrogating him was to subject him to public censure, harassment and exposure because of his opposition to the existence of the Un-American Activities Committee is not supported by the record. Pp. 365 U. S. 411-412.

(b) It is not for this Court to speculate as to the motives that may have prompted the decision of individual members of the Subcommittee to summon petitioner, since their motives alone would not vitiate an investigation that was serving a legislative purpose. P. 365 U. S. 412.

(c) Petitioner was not summoned to appear as a result of an indiscriminate dragnet procedure, lacking in probable cause for belief that he possessed information which might be helpful to the

Page 365 U. S. 400

Subcommittee, since the Subcommittee had reason to believe when it summoned him that he was an active Communist leader engaged primarily in propaganda activities. Pp. 365 U. S. 412-413

3. The question whether petitioner was then a member of the Communist Party was pertinent to a subject under inquiry. P. 365 U. S. 413.

4. Petitioner was clearly apprised of the pertinency of the question when he was directed to answer it. P. 365 U. S. 413.

5. The Subcommittee's interrogation of petitioner did not violate his rights under the First Amendment. Barenblatt v. United States, 360 U. S. 109. Pp. 365 U. S. 413-415.

(a) It was not unlawful for the Committee to investigate petitioner's conduct, even though he may have been engaged, at the moment, in public criticism of the Committee and attempting to influence public opinion in favor of abolishing it. P. 365 U. S. 414.

(b) The Subcommittee's legitimate legislative interest was not the activity in which petitioner might have been engaged at the time, but in the manipulation and infiltration of activities and organizations by persons advocating the overthrow of the Government. Pp. 365 U. S. 414-415.

272 F.2d 783 affirmed.

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