United States v. Harriss
347 U.S. 612 (1954)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Harriss, 347 U.S. 612 (1954)

United States v. Harriss

No. 32

Argued October 19, 1953

Decided June 7, 1954

347 U.S. 612

Syllabus

1. As here construed, §§ 305, 307 and 308 of the Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act are not too vague and indefinite to meet the requirements of due process. Pp. 347 U. S. 617-624.

(a) If the general class of offenses to which a statute is directed is plainly within its terms, the statute will not be struck down as vague, even though marginal cases could be put where doubts might arise. P. 347 U. S. 618.

(b) If this general class of offenses can be made constitutionally definite by a reasonable construction of the statute, the Court is under a duty to give the statute that construction. P. 347 U. S. 618.

(c) Section 307 limits the coverage of the Act to those "persons" (except specified political committees) who solicit, collect, or receive contributions of money or other thing of value, and then only if one of the main purposes of either the persons or the contributions is to aid in the accomplishment of the aims set forth in § 307 (a) and (b). Pp. 347 U. S. 618-620, 347 U. S. 621-623.

(d) The purposes set forth in § 307(a) and (b) are here construed to refer only to "lobbying in its commonly accepted sense" -- to direct communication with members of Congress on pending or proposed legislation. Pp. 347 U. S. 620-621.

(e) The "principal purpose" requirement was adopted merely to exclude from the scope of § 307 those contributions and persons having only an "incidental" purpose of influencing legislation. It does not exclude a contribution which in substantial part is to be used to influence legislation through direct communication with Congress or a person whose activities in substantial part are directed to influencing legislation through direct communication with Congress. Pp. 347 U. S. 621-623.

(f) There are three prerequisites to coverage under §§ 307, 305, and 308: (1) the "person" must have solicited, collected or received contributions; (2) one of the main purposes of such "person," or one of the main purposes of such contributions, must have been to influence the passage or defeat of legislation

Page 347 U. S. 613

by Congress; and (3) the intended method of accomplishing this purpose must have been through direct communication with members of Congress. P. 347 U. S. 623.

2. As thus construed, §§ 305 and 308 do not violate the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment -- freedom to speak, publish and petition the Government. Pp. 347 U. S. 625-626.

3. In this case, it is unnecessary for the Court to pass on the contention that the penalty provision in § 310(b) violates the First Amendment. Pp. 347 U. S. 626-627.

(a) Section 310(b) has not yet been applied to appellees, and it will never be so applied if appellees are found innocent of the charges against them. P. 347 U. S. 627.

(b) The elimination of § 310(b) would still leave a statute defining specific duties and providing a specific penalty for violation of any such duty, and the separability provision of the Act can be given effect if § 310(b) should ultimately be found invalid. P. 347 U. S. 627.

109 F.Supp. 641, reversed.

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