United States v. Johnson
Annotate this Case
383 U.S. 169 (1966)
U.S. Supreme Court
United States v. Johnson, 383 U.S. 169 (1966)
United States v. Johnson
Argued November 10 and 15, 1965
Decided February 24, 1966
383 U.S. 169
Respondent, a former Congressman, was convicted on several counts of violating the conflict of interest statute (18 U.S.C. § 281) and on one count of conspiring to defraud the United States (18 U.S.C. § 371). The conspiracy charge involved an alleged agreement whereby respondent and another Congressman would attempt to influence the Justice Department to dismiss pending savings and loan company mail fraud indictments. As part of the conspiracy, respondent allegedly delivered for pay a speech in Congress favorable to loan companies. The Government contended and adduced proof to show that the speech was delivered to serve private interests; that respondent was not acting in good faith, and that he did not prepare or deliver the speech as a Congressman would ordinarily do. The Court of Appeals set aside the conviction on the conspiracy count as being barred by Art. I, § 6, of the Constitution, providing that "for any Speech or Debate in either House," Senators and Representatives "shall not be questioned in any other Place," and ordered retrial on the substantive counts.
1. The Speech or Debate Clause precludes judicial inquiry into the motivation for a Congressman's speech, and prevents such a speech from being made the basis of a criminal charge against a Congressman for conspiracy to defraud the Government by impeding the due discharge of its functions. Pp. 383 U. S. 173-185.
(a) The Speech or Debate Clause, which emerged from the long struggle for parliamentary supremacy, embodies a privilege designed to protect members of the legislature against prosecution by a possibly unfriendly executive and conviction by a possibly hostile judiciary. Pp. 383 U. S. 177-180.
(b) The privilege, which will be broadly construed to effectuate its purposes, Kilbourn v. Thompson, 103 U. S. 168; Tenney v. Brandhove, 341 U. S. 367, was created not primarily to avoid private suits as in those cases, but to prevent legislative intimidation by and accountability to the other branches of government. Pp. 383 U. S. 180-182.
(c) The Speech or Debate Clause forecloses inquiry not only into the "content" of a congressional speech, but into circumstances involving the motives for making it. Pp. 383 U. S. 182-183.
(d) Prosecution under a general criminal statute involving inquiry into the motives for and circumstances surrounding a congressional speech is barred even though the gravamen of the offense is the alleged conspiracy, rather than the speech itself. Pp. 383 U. S. 184-185.
2. The Government is not precluded from retrying the conspiracy count as purged of all the elements offensive to the Speech or Debate Clause. P. 383 U. S. 185.
3. This Court does not review the Court of Appeals' determination that the substantive counts be retried because of the prejudicial effect thereon resulting from the unconstitutional aspects of the conspiracy count, since the Government does not dispute that determination in this proceeding. Pp. 383 U. S. 185-186.
337 F.2d 180, affirmed and remanded.
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