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United States Supreme Court

347 U.S. 179

Adams  v.  Maryland

 Argued: Jan. 7, 1954. --- Decided: March 8, 1954

Mr. Justice JACKSON, concurring.

I am in substantial agreement with the Court's opinion but differ in emphasis.

The only controlling fact for me is that this Act is on the federal statute books. What someone intended almost a century ago when it was passed, or in the 1890's when Counselman v. Hitchcock, 142 U.S. 547, 12 S.Ct. 195, 35 L.Ed. 1110, was decided, I do not know. Since the last event, some thirty Congresses have come and gone, something near 15,000 Congressmen have been elected, not allowing for re-election. How many of them knew of Counselman v. Hitchcock, how many felt frustrated by it, and how many would have vented their frustration by repeal, I do not know or care. Congress left the Act on the books, and it was there when this petitioner testified. The only question is what it would mean to a reasonably well-informed lawyer reading it.

I do not think it important whether petitioner was a 'voluntary' or 'involuntary' witness before the congressional Committee or whether he raised the question of his immunity under the Fifth Amendment. No such qualification appears in the Act. The whole object and usefulness of the statute is to relieve the witness of the risks which might induce him to withhold testimony from Congress. It is very customary for one who is asked for information to appear before a committee without requiring the formality of a subpoena. The Act does not strip one of its protection because he may be a cooperative, or even interested, witness; indeed, its purpose is to protect and thereby encourage cooperation instead of hesitation or resistance.

The statute seems as unambiguous as language can be. If words mean anything, the statute extends its protection to all witnesses, to all testimony, and in all courts. It is easy to see, as this case illustrates, the hazard a witness would run otherwise. A lawyer would be warranted from the face of this Act in advising the witness that he had nothing to fear from frank and complete disclosure to Congress. Thus the Act wold have accomplished its obvious purpose of facilitating disclosure.

I cannot see the slightest doubt that Congress has power to enact the statute for that purpose. It does not take anything from Maryland. It does not say Maryland cannot prosecute petitioner; it just says she shall not put him to disadvantage on the trial by reason of his cooperation with Congress. It leaves Maryland with complete freedom to prosecute she just has to work up her own evidence and cannot use that worked up by Congress. The protection to the witness does not extend beyond the testimony actually received. In this case, petitioner was convicted by the State on the admissions he made before the Senate Committee. Section 3486 was thereby violated, and the conviction should be reversed.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).