Congressional Powers of Inquiry

May 9, 1940

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Legal Challenge to Dies Committee Action
Powers of Investigating Committees
Conduct of Congressional Inquiries

Legal Challenge to Dies Committee Action

Arrest of Committee Agents After Philadelphia Riad

The Outcome of legal proceedings now underway in Philadelphia and in Washington, arising out of recent acts of the House (Dies) Committee to Investigate Un-American Activities, is expected to aid materially in delineating the inquisitorial powers of Congress. Two agents of the House committee are soon to be bound over to a grand jury at Philadelphia on charges of entering into a conspiracy to violate the Bill of Rights in conducting a raid on the Philadelphia headquarters of the Communist party. At Washington, five Communists who refused to answer questions put to them by the committee were cited for contempt by the House. They were subsequently indicted by a federal grand jury as contumacious witnesses, and are now awaiting trial in a District of Columbia court.

Warrants for the arrest of George F. Hurley and Chester Howe, Dies committee investigators, were issued by Federal District Judge Welsh, April 5, after the raid on Communist party headquarters at Philadelphia and the seizure of two truckloads of party documents and records. Judge Welsh asked the committee not to use the material seized, pending disposition of the case, but Rep. Dies said the papers had already been put into the committee's record. Welsh ruled, May 3, that the raid was illegal. “Let the seal of judicial approval be placed upon such constitutional violations, and liberty of the person and liberty of religious and political thought and action will have vanished from our land,” he said. “The Communist group are very much in the minority in our country …but their rights, which they claim were invaded, are rights that are sacred to all of us.” Judge Welsh reserved decision, pending another hearing, on the question whether the seized documents shall be returned to the Communist party.

Early in April, contempt citations were voted by the House against George Powers and James H. Doisen, Pittsburgh Communists, following their refusal to disclose to the Dies committee the names of other members of the Communist party on the ground that such members “would be blacklisted by employers.” Contempt citations against two Boston officials of the Communist party and Albert Blumberg, Baltimore Communist leader, who had refused to answer questions on the ground that they were not pertinent to the committee inquiry, were voted April 8. The five citations were certified to the District Attorney for the District of Columbia for presentation to a grand jury, and indictments were returned on May 3. If convicted, the Communists face a maximum jail sentence of one year and a maximum fine of $1,000.

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