McGrain v. Daugherty

Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps

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A landmark decision of the Supreme Court, McGrain v. Daugherty, 273 U.S. 135, 47 S.Ct. 319, 71 L.Ed. 580 (1927), recognized the implicit power of either House of Congress to hold a witness in a congressional investigation in CONTEMPT for a refusal to honor its summons or to respond to its questions.

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During the mid-1920s, there were numerous allegations that the U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT was being mismanaged by its administrator, HARRY DAUGHERTY, the attorney general of the United States. In response to the charges, the Senate passed a resolution that empowered an investigatory committee to hear evidence as to whether Daugherty failed to prosecute various violations of the ANTITRUST LAWS. Mally S. Daugherty, who was a bank president as well as the brother of the attorney general, refused to respond to a subpoena that was issued by the committee on two occasions, ordering him to appear and to bring designated bank ledgers. The president pro tempore of the Senate issued a warrant to his sergeant at arms that Mally Daugherty be taken into custody. A deputy of the sergeant at arms took Daugherty into custody in Cincinnati, Ohio. Daugherty brought a HABEAS CORPUS action for his release in federal district court in Ohio. The court declared that the attachment and detention of the witness was void on the ground that the Senate exceeded its powers in directing the investigation and in ordering the seizure of Daugherty. The deputy made a direct appeal to the Supreme Court, which accepted the case for review.

The Court defined two issues: whether the Senate or House of Representatives has authority to use its own process to compel a private person to appear as a witness and to testify before it or one of its committees in order that Congress can perform a legislative function that it has under the Constitution; and whether the process that was used in this case was directed toward that purpose. Before addressing those questions, however, the Court reviewed some of Daugherty's assertions. Daugherty argued that there was no statutory provision for a deputy and that even if there were, the deputy had no power to execute the warrant, since it was addressed to the sergeant at arms. The Court disagreed. It explained that deputies were authorized to act for the sergeant at arms by virtue of a standing order adopted by the Senate and that Congress recognized their status by establishing and making appropriations for...

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