Eastland v. United States Servicemen's Fund
Annotate this Case
421 U.S. 491 (1975)
U.S. Supreme Court
Eastland v. United States Servicemen's Fund, 421 U.S. 491 (1975)
Eastland v. United States Servicemen's Fund
Argued January 22, 1975
Decided May 27, 1975
421 U.S. 491
The Senate Subcommittee on Internal Security, pursuant to its authority under a Senate resolution to make a complete study of the administration, operation, and enforcement of the Internal Security Act of 1950, began an inquiry into the various activities of respondent organization, to determine whether they were potentially harmful to the morale of United States Armed Forces. In connection with such inquiry, it issued a subpoena duces tecum to the bank where the organization had an account, ordering the bank to produce all records involving the account. The organization and two of its members then brought an action against the Chairman, Senator Members, Chief Counsel of the Subcommittee, and the bank to enjoin implementation of the subpoena on First Amendment grounds. The District Court dismissed the action. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that, although courts should hesitate to interfere with congressional actions even where First Amendment rights are implicated, such restraint should not preclude judicial review where no alternative avenue of relief is available, and that, if the subpoena was obeyed, respondents' First Amendment rights would be violated.
Held: The activities of the Senate Subcommittee, the individual Senators, and the Chief Counsel fall within the "legitimate legislative sphere," and since it is determined that such is the case, those activities are protected by the absolute prohibition of the Speech or Debate Clause of the Constitution against being "questioned in any other Place," and hence are immune from judicial interference. Pp. 421 U. S. 501-511.
(a) The applicability of the Clause to private civil actions is supported by the absoluteness of the term "shall not be questioned" and the sweep of the term "in any other Place." P. 421 U. S. 503.
(b) Issuance of subpoenas such as the one in question is a legitimate use by Congress of its power to investigate, and the subpoena power may be exercised by a committee acting, as here, on behalf of one of the Houses. Pp. 421 U. S. 503-505.
(c) Inquiry into the sources of the funds used to carry on activities suspected by a subcommittee of Congress to have a potential
for undermining the morale of the Armed Forces is within the legitimate legislative sphere. Pp. 421 U. S. 505-507.
(d) There is no distinction between the Subcommittee's Members and its Chief Counsel insofar as complete immunity from the issuance of the subpoena under the Speech or Debate Clause is concerned, and since the Members are immune because the issuance of the subpoena is "essential to legislating," their aides share that immunity. P. 421 U. S. 507.
(e) The subpoena cannot be held subject to judicial questioning on the alleged ground that it works an invasion of respondents' privacy, since it is "essential to legislating." P. 421 U. S. 508.
(f) Nor can the subpoena be held outside the protection of speech or debate immunity on the alleged ground that the motive of the investigation was improper, since, in determining the legitimacy of a congressional action, the motives alleged to have prompted it are not to be considered. Pp. 421 U. S. 508-509.
(g) In view of the absolute terms of the speech or debate protection, a mere allegation that First Amendment rights may be infringed by the subpoena does not warrant judicial interference. Pp. 421 U. S. 509-511.
159 U.S.App.D.C. 352, 488 F.2d 1252, reversed and remanded.
BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. MARSHALL, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which BRENNAN and STEWART, JJ., joined, post, p. 421 U. S. 513. DOUGLAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 421 U. S. 518.
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