William Brandhove brought this action in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, alleging that he had been deprived of rights guaranteed by the Federal Constitution. The defendants are Jack B. Tenney and other members of a committee of the California Legislature, the Senate Fact-Finding Committee on Un-American Activities, colloquially known as the Tenney Committee. Also named as defendants are the Committee and Elmer E. Robinson, Mayor of San Francisco.
The action is based on §§ 43 and 47 (3) of Title 8 of the United States Code. These sections derive from one of the statutes, passed in 1871, aimed at enforcing the Fourteenth Amendment. Act of April 20, 1871, c. 22, §§ 1, 2, 17 Stat. 13. Section 43 provides:
Section 47 (3) provides a civil remedy against "two or more persons" who may conspire to deprive another of constitutional rights, as therein defined.
Brandhove alleges that the January 29 hearing "was not held for a legislative purpose," but was designed "to intimidate and silence plaintiff and deter and prevent him from effectively exercising his constitutional rights of free speech and to petition the Legislature for redress of grievances, and also to deprive him of the equal protection of the laws, due process of law, and of the enjoyment of equal privileges and immunities as a citizen of the United States under the law, and so did intimidate, silence, deter, and prevent and deprive plaintiff." Damages of $10,000 were asked "for legal counsel, traveling, hotel accommodations, and other matters pertaining and necessary to his defense" in the contempt proceeding arising out of the Committee hearings. The plaintiff also asked for punitive damages.
The action was dismissed without opinion by the District Judge. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held, however, that the complaint stated a cause of action against the Committee and its members. 183 F.2d 121.
The privilege of legislators to be free from arrest or civil process for what they do or say in legislative proceedings has taproots in the Parliamentary struggles of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. As Parliament achieved increasing independence from the Crown, its statement of the privilege grew stronger. In 1523, Sir Thomas More could make only a tentative claim. Roper, Life of Sir Thomas More, in More's Utopia (Adams ed.) 10. In 1668, after a long and bitter struggle, Parliament finally laid the ghost of Charles I, who had prosecuted Sir John Elliot and others for "seditious" speeches in Parliament. Proceedings against Sir John Elliot, 3 How. St. Tr., 294, 332. In 1689, the Bill of Rights declared in unequivocal language: "That the Freedom of Speech, and Debates or Proceedings in Parliament, ought not to be impeached or questioned in any Court or Place out of Parliament." 1 Wm. & Mary, Sess. 2, c. II. See Stockdale v. Hansard, 9 Ad. & El. 1, 113-114 (1839).
Freedom of speech and action in the legislature was taken as a matter of course by those who severed the Colonies from the Crown and founded our Nation. It was deemed so essential for representatives of the people that it was written into the Articles of Confederation and later into the Constitution. Article V of the Articles of Confederation is quite close to the English Bill of Rights: "Freedom of speech and debate in Congress shall not be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Congress . . . ." Article I, § 6, of the Constitution provides:
The reason for the privilege is clear. It was well summarized by James Wilson, an influential member of the Committee of Detail which was responsible for the provision in the Federal Constitution. "In order to enable and encourage a representative of the public to discharge his public trust with firmness and success, it is indispensably necessary, that he should enjoy the fullest liberty of speech, and that he should be protected from the resentment of every one, however powerful, to whom the exercise of that liberty may occasion offence." II Works of James Wilson (Andrews ed. 1896) 38. See the statement of the reason for the privilege in the Report from the Select Committee on the Official Secrets Acts (House of Commons, 1939) xiv.
The provision in the United States Constitution was a reflection of political principles already firmly established in the States. Three State Constitutions adopted before the Federal Constitution specifically protected the privilege. The Maryland Declaration of Rights, Nov. 3, 1776, provided: "That freedom of speech, and debates or proceedings, in the legislature, ought not to be impeached in any other court or judicature." Art. VIII. The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 provided: "The freedom of deliberation, speech and debate, in either house of the legislature, is so essential to the rights of the people, that it cannot be the foundation of any accusation or prosecution, action, or complaint, in any other court or place whatsoever." Part The First, Art. XXI. Chief Justice Parsons gave the following gloss to this provision in Coffin v. Coffin, 4 Mass. 1, 27 (1808):
The New Hampshire Constitution of 1784 provided: "The freedom of deliberation, speech, and debate, in either house of the legislature, is so essential to the rights of the people, that it cannot be the foundation of any action, complaint, or prosecution, in any other court or place whatsoever." Part I, Art. XXX.
As other States joined the Union or revised their Constitutions, they took great care to preserve the principle that the legislature must be free to speak and act without fear of criminal and civil liability. Forty-one of the forty-eight States now have specific provisions in their Constitutions protecting the privilege.
We come then to the question whether from the pleadings it appears that the defendants were acting in the sphere of legitimate legislative activity. Legislatures may not of course acquire power by an unwarranted extension of privilege. The House of Commons' claim of power to
The claim of an unworthy purpose does not destroy the privilege. Legislators are immune from deterrents to the uninhibited discharge of their legislative duty, not for their private indulgence but for the public good. One must not expect uncommon courage even in legislators. The privilege would be of little value if they could be subjected to the cost and inconvenience and distractions of a trial upon a conclusion of the pleader, or to the hazard of a judgment against them based upon a jury's speculation as to motives. The holding of this Court in Fletcher v. Peck, 6 Cranch 87, 130, that it was not consonant with our scheme of government for a court to inquire into the motives of legislators, has remained unquestioned. See cases cited in Arizona v. California, 283 U.S. 423, 455.
Investigations, whether by standing or special committees, are an established part of representative government.
It should be noted that this is a case in which the defendants are members of a legislature. Legislative privilege in such a case deserves greater respect than where an official acting on behalf of the legislature is sued or the legislature seeks the affirmative aid of the courts to assert a privilege. In Kilbourn v. Thompson, supra, this Court allowed a judgment against the Sergeant-at-Arms, but found that one could not be entered against the defendant members of the House.
We have only considered the scope of the privilege as applied to the facts of the present case. As Mr. Justice Miller said in the Kilbourn case: "It is not necessary to decide here that there may not be things done, in the one House or the other, of an extraordinary character, for
The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed and that of the District Court affirmed.
MR. JUSTICE BLACK, concurring.
The Court holds that the Civil Rights statutes
It is not held that the validity of legislative action is coextensive with the personal immunity of the legislators. That is to say, the holding that the chairman and the other members of his Committee cannot be sued in this case is not a holding that their alleged persecution of Brandhove is legal conduct. Indeed, as I understand the decision, there is still much room for challenge to the
In this connection it is not out of place to observe that the resolution creating the Committee is so broadly drawn that grave doubts are raised as to whether the Committee could constitutionally exercise all the powers purportedly bestowed on it.
Of course the Court does not in any way sanction a legislative inquisition of the type apparently authorized by this resolution.
Unfortunately, it is true that legislative assemblies, born to defend the liberty of the people, have at times violated their sacred trusts and become the instruments of oppression. Many specific instances could be cited but perhaps the most recent spectacular illustration is the use of a committee of the Argentine Congress as the
MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS, dissenting.
I agree with the opinion of the Court as a statement of general principles governing the liability of legislative committees and members of the legislatures. But I do
We are dealing here with a right protected by the Constitution—the right of free speech. The charge seems strained and difficult to sustain; but it is that a legislative committee brought the weight of its authority down on respondent for exercising his right of free speech. Reprisal for speaking is as much an abridgment as a prior restraint. If a committee departs so far from its domain to deprive a citizen of a right protected by the Constitution, I can think of no reason why it should be immune. Yet that is the extent of the liability sought to be imposed on petitioners under 8 U. S. C. § 43.
It is speech and debate in the legislative department which our constitutional scheme makes privileged. Included, of course, are the actions of legislative committees that are authorized to conduct hearings or make investigations so as to lay the foundation for legislative action. But we are apparently holding today that the actions of those committees have no limits in the eyes of the law. May they depart with impunity from their legislative functions, sit as kangaroo courts, and try men for their loyalty and their political beliefs? May they substitute trial before committees for trial before juries? May they sit as a board of censors over industry, prepare their blacklists of citizens, and issue pronouncements as devastating as any bill of attainder?
No other public official has complete immunity for his actions. Even a policeman who exacts a confession by
"If two or more persons in any State or Territory conspire, or go in disguise on the highway or on the premises of another, for the purpose of depriving, either directly or indirectly, any person or class of persons of the equal protection of the laws, or of equal privileges and immunities under the laws; or for the purpose of preventing or hindering the constituted authorities of any State or Territory from giving or securing to all persons within such State or Territory the equal protection of the laws; or if two or more persons conspire to prevent by force, intimidation, or threat, any citizen who is lawfully entitled to vote, from giving his support or advocacy in a legal manner, toward or in favor of the election of any lawfully qualified person as an elector for President or Vice-President, or as a member of Congress of the United States; or to injure any citizen in person or property on account of such support or advocacy; in any case of conspiracy set forth in this section, if one or more persons engaged therein do, or cause to be done, any act in furtherance of the object of such conspiracy, whereby another is injured in his person or property, or deprived of having and exercising any right or privilege of a citizen of the United States, the party so injured or deprived may have an action for the recovery of damages, occasioned by such injury or deprivation, against any one or more of the conspirators."
Three other of the original States made specific provision to protect legislative freedom immediately after the Federal Constitution was adopted. See Pa. Const., 1790, Art. I, § 17; Ga. Const., 1789, Art. I, § 14; Del. Const., 1792, Art. II, § 11. Connecticut and Rhode Island so provided in the first constitutions enacted to replace their uncodified organic law. Conn. Const., 1818, Art. Third, § 10; R. I. Const., 1842, Art. IV, § 5.
In New York, the Bill of Rights passed by the legislature on January 26, 1787, provided: "That the freedom of speech and debates, and proceedings in the senate and assembly, shall not be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of the senate or assembly." In Virginia, as well as in the other colonies, the assemblies had built up a strong tradition of legislative privilege long before the Revolution. See Clarke, Parliamentary Privilege in the American Colonies (1943), passim, especially 70 and 93 et seq.
Compare Iowa Const., Art. III, § 10; N. C. Const., Art. II, § 17 (right of legislator to protest action of legislature). See also, Cal. Const., Art. IV, § 11; Iowa Const., Art. III, § 11; Miss. Const., Art. 4, § 48; Nev. Const., Art. IV, § 11; S. C. Const., Art. III, § 14 (freedom from arrest). Only the Florida Constitution has no provision concerning legislative privilege.