Dennis v. United States
Annotate this Case
339 U.S. 162 (1950)
U.S. Supreme Court
Dennis v. United States, 339 U.S. 162 (1950)
Dennis v. United States
Argued November 7, 1949
Decided March 27, 1950
339 U.S. 162
Petitioner, who is General Secretary of the Communist Party of the United States, was convicted in the District of Columbia of violating R.S. § 102, 2 U.S.C. § 192, by willfully failing to appear before the Committee on Un-American Activities of the House of Representatives in compliance with a subpoena duly served upon him. On voir dire examination, government employees on the jury panel were interrogated individually by petitioner's counsel as to whether the fact that petitioner was a Communist, the attitude of the Committee on Un-American Activities toward Communists, or the recently issued Executive Order 9835 providing standards for the discharge of government employees upon reasonable grounds for belief that they are disloyal to the Government, would prevent them from rendering a fair and impartial verdict. Seven government employees who gave negative answers to these questions and testified that they could render a fair and impartial verdict were permitted to serve on the jury. There was no proof of actual bias, and petitioner's challenge of these government employees for cause was denied.
Held: in the circumstances of this case, petitioner was not denied the trial "by an impartial jury" guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. Pp. 339 U. S. 164-172
(a) The enactment of D.C.Code (1940) § 11-1420, which removed (with specified exceptions) the previously existing disqualification of government employees for jury service in the District of Columbia in criminal and other cases to which the Government is a party, was within the power of Congress and therefore employees of the Federal Government are not challengeable solely by reason of their employment. United States v. Wood, 299 U. S. 123; Frazier v. United States, 335 U. S. 497. Pp. 339 U. S. 165-167, 339 U. S. 172.
(b) While impaneling a jury, the trial court has a serious duty to determine the question of actual bias and a broad discretion in its rulings on the challenges therefor, and it must be zealous to protect the rights of an accused irrespective of his political or religious beliefs. P. 339 U. S. 168.
(c) One of an unpopular minority group must be accorded that solicitude which properly accompanies an accused person; but he is not entitled to unusual protection or exception. P. 339 U. S. 168.
(d) In order to secure the constitutional guarantee of trial by an impartial jury in the circumstances of this case, it is not necessary that all government employees be held to be biased as a matter of law. Pp. 339 U. S. 168, 339 U. S. 172.
(e) The way is open in every case to raise a contention of bias from the realm of speculation to the realm of fact, and preservation of the opportunity to prove actual bias is a guarantee of a defendant's right to an impartial jury. Pp. 339 U. S. 168, 339 U. S. 171-172.
(f) Judicial notice may be taken of Executive Order 9835, but that does not justify an assumption by this Court that government employees could not serve fairly and impartially as jurors in the circumstances of this case -- especially when they stated under oath that they could do so. Pp. 339 U. S. 169-171.
(g) Nor, in the circumstance of this case, can an exception in favor of a Communist be carved out of the rule laid down in the statute and construed in Wood v. United States and Frazier v. United States that there is no implied bias by reason of government employment. P. 339 U. S. 171.
(h) Nor can this Court, any more than the trial court, take judicial notice of a "miasma of fear" to which government employees are claimed to be peculiarly vulnerable and from which other citizens are, by implication, immune. P. 339 U. S. 172.
84 U.S.App.D.C. 31, 171 F.2d 986, affirmed.
Petitioner was convicted in the District of Columbia of violating R.S. § 102, 2 U.S.C. § 192. The Court of Appeals affirmed. 84 U.S.App.D.C. 31, 171 F.2d 986. This Court granted certiorari. 337 U.S. 954. Affirmed, p. 339 U. S. 172.