United States v. Gillock,
445 U.S. 360 (1980)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Gillock, 445 U.S. 360 (1980)

United States v. Gillock

No. 78-1455

Argued December 4, 1979

Decided March 19, 1980

445 U.S. 360


A federal indictment charged respondent, then a Tennessee state senator, with accepting money as fees for using his public office to block the extradition of a defendant from Tennessee to Illinois, and for agreeing to introduce state legislation which would enable four persons to obtain master electricians' licenses they had been unable to obtain by way of existing examination processes. The District Court granted respondent's motion to suppress all evidence relating to his legislative activities, holding that, as a state senator, respondent was entitled to a judicially created evidentiary privilege. The District Court relied on Rule 501 of the Federal Rules of Evidence, which provides in relevant part that "the privilege of a witness . . . shall be governed by the principles of the common law as they may be interpreted by the courts of the United States in the light of reason and experience." The Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court's recognition of a privilege and its suppression of certain items of evidence; it held that other items of evidence were insufficiently related to the legislative process to be protected by the privilege.

Held: In a federal criminal prosecution against a state legislator, there is no legislative privilege barring the introduction of evidence of the legislative acts of the legislator. Pp. 445 U. S. 366-374.

(a) Rule 501's language and legislative history do not support respondent's arguments that a speech or debate type privilege for state legislators in federal criminal cases is an established part of the federal common law, and is therefore applicable through the Rule, or that such a privilege is compelled by principles of federalism. Rule 501 requires the application of federal privilege law in criminal cases brought in federal court, and thus the fact that there is an evidentiary privilege under the Tennessee Constitution which respondent could assert in a state criminal prosecution does not compel an analogous privilege in a federal prosecution. Pp. 445 U. S. 366-368.

(b) The historical antecedents and policy considerations which inspired the Speech or Debate Clause of the Federal Constitution do not require recognition of a comparable evidentiary privilege for state legislators in federal prosecutions. The first rationale underlying the Speech or Debate Clause, resting solely on the separation of powers

Page 445 U. S. 361

doctrine, gives no support to the grant of a privilege to state legislators in federal prosecutions. As to the second rationale underlying the Speech or Debate Clause, that is, the need to insure legislative independence, this Court's decisions on immunity of state officials from suit have drawn the line at civil actions. Cf., e.g., Tenney v. Brandhove, 341 U. S. 367; O'Shea v. Littleton, 414 U. S. 488. Where important federal interests are at stake, as in the enforcement of federal criminal statutes, principles of comity must yield. Recognition of an evidentiary privilege for state legislators for their legislative acts would impair the legitimate interest of the Federal Government in enforcing its criminal statutes, with only speculative benefits to the state legislative process. Pp. 445 U. S. 368-373.

(c) Congress has not chosen either to provide that a state legislator prosecuted under federal law should be accorded the same evidentiary privileges as a Member of Congress or to direct federal courts to apply to a state legislator the same evidentiary privileges available in a prosecution of a similar charge in the state courts. In the absence of a constitutional limitation on Congress' power to make state officials, like all other persons, subject to federal criminal sanctions, there is no basis in these circumstances for a judicially created limitation that excludes proof of the relevant facts. P. 445 U. S. 374.

587 F.2d 284, reversed.

BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, STEWART, WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting statement, in which POWELL, J., joined, post p. 445 U. S. 374

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