Contempt of Congress

March 5, 1947

Report Outline
Defiance of Investigating Committee of Congress
Power of Congress to Punish for Contempt
Open Questions in Field of Contempt

Defiance of Investigating Committee of Congress

Rise in Congressional Citations for Contempt

The rapid increase during recent years in the number of citations for contempt, and the disappointing results achieved through prosecutions in the courts, have turned the attention of members of Congress to a search for better means of assuring respect for the authority of the Legislative Branch of the government.

Since March, 1940, no fewer than 30 persons have been cited for contumacy by the House of Representatives and had their cases certified by the Speaker to the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia for prosecution. Of these 30 cases, 23 have originated during the last 12 months.

Two current cases have attracted particular attention because they involve seemingly flagrant defiances of the authority of Congress. On Feb. 18, 1947, the House voted 370 to 1 to cite Gerhart Eisler, reputed leader of Communist underground activity in the United States, for refusing to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. According to the committee's report, Eisler had appeared before the committee, Feb. 6, in answer to a subpoena and in custody of security officers of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, but had refused to be sworn as a witness unless permitted to read a prepared statement prior to taking the oath. Eisler justified his behavior on the ground that he was a “political prisoner” and therefore not subject to compulsory process by a congressional committee. He was indicted for contempt, Feb. 27, by a federal grand jury at Washington.

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Investigations and Discipline