Legal Principle at Issue
Whether an investigation conducted under the aegis of state legislature to determine whether a professor was a subversive person in the state and including asking him for the contents of a lecture he gave at the state university and his knowledge of the Progressive Party violated the First Amendment.
Reversed. Petitioning party received a favorable disposition.
In an investigation conducted by a State Attorney General, acting on behalf of the State Legislature under a broad resolution directing him to determine whether there were "subversive persons" in the State and to recommend further legislation on that subject, appellant answered most questions asked him, including whether he was a Communist; but he refused to answer questions related to (1) the contents of a lecture he had delivered at the State University, and (2) his knowledge of the Progressive Party of the State and its members. He did not plead his privilege against self-incrimination, but based his refusal to answer such questions on the grounds that they were not pertinent to the inquiry and violated his rights under the First Amendment. Persisting in his refusal when haled into a State Court and directed to answer, he was adjudged guilty of contempt. This judgment was affirmed by the State Supreme Court, which construed the term "subversive persons" broadly enough to include persons engaged in conduct only remotely related to actual subversion and done completely apart from any conscious intent to be a part of such activity. It also held that the need of the Legislature to be informed on the subject of self-preservation of government outweighed the deprivation of constitutional rights that occurred in the process.