Gojack v. United States,
384 U.S. 702 (1966)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Gojack v. United States, 384 U.S. 702 (1966)

Gojack v. United States

No. 594

Argued April 21, 1966

Decided June 13, 1966

384 U.S. 702


In an appearance before a subcommittee of the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1955, petitioner refused to answer certain questions concerning his affiliation with the Communist Party, the affiliation of others, and his connection with a "Peace Crusade." He did not invoke the Fifth Amendment, but challenged the jurisdiction of the Committee and the Subcommittee, the authorization of each and the constitutionality of the inquiry. He was indicted and convicted for contempt of Congress under 2 U.S.C. § 192 as a result of his refusals to answer. In Russell v. United States, 369 U. S. 749, this Court reversed, holding the indictment defective because it did not allege the "subject under inquiry." Petitioner was re-indicted, the indictment reciting that "the subject of these hearings was Communist party activities within the field of labor." Petitioner was again convicted and his conviction was affirmed by the Court of Appeals.


1. "A specific, properly authorized subject of inquiry is an essential element of the offense under § 192," and must be properly pleaded and proved. Pp. 384 U. S. 706-712.

2. In this case, the House Committee never authorized the hearings on "Communist party activities within the field of labor" which is alleged to be the subject of inquiry. Pp. 384 U. S. 706-712.

(a) The House Committee's own Rule I requires that a "major investigation" be specifically approved by the Committee. This is concededly a "major investigation." The record shows that it was never authorized or approved by the Committee. "When a committee rule relates to a matter of such importance, it must be strictly observed." Yellin v. United States, 374 U. S. 109. Pp. 384 U. S. 706-709.

(b) The Committee's failure to authorize the investigation cannot be cured by an "inference" of Committee approval. Pp. 384 U. S. 709-711.

3. Additionally, the subcommittee before which petitioner testified was not properly empowered to conduct the inquiry.


Page 384 U. S. 703

proof of a clear delegation to the subcommittee of authority to conduct an inquiry into a designated subject, the subcommittee was without authority which can be vindicated by criminal sanctions under § 192. . . ."

Hence, even if the Committee itself had properly approved the making of the investigation, this prosecution would fail because the subcommittee was not properly empowered.

"The legislative history of § 192 makes plain that a clear chain of authority from the House to the questioning body is an essential element of the offense. If the contempt occurs before a subcommittee, the line of authority from the House to the Committee and then to the subcommittee must plainly and explicitly appear, and it must appear in terms of a delegation with respect to a particular, specific subject matter."

Pp. 384 U. S. 713-717.

121 U.S.App.D.C. 126, 348 F.2d 355, reversed.

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