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McGrain v. Daugherty

Mcgrain Prevails In High Court

On 17 January 1927, the Supreme Court issued its decision. In an 8-0 ruling, the Court upheld Congress' contempt conviction against Daugherty. In doing so, it embraced a broad interpretation of Congress' power to investigate the lives and activities of private citizens. Calling the power to compel testimony an "attribute of the power to legislate," the justices found the first function indispensable to the second.

In rendering its decision, the unanimous majority addressed two principal questions. The first was whether a congressional committee can compel a private individual to appear before it to give testimony, despite the fact that, in the Court's determination, there is no provision for this power in the Constitution. Citing examples from both British parliamentary history and the annals of the U.S. Congress, Justice Van Devanter concluded that "the power of inquiry--with process to enforce it--is an essential and appropriate auxiliary to the legislative function." "A legislative body cannot legislate wisely or effectively in the absence of information respecting the conditions which the legislation is intended to affect or change." Van Devanter added, "and where the legislative body does not itself possess the requisite information--which not infrequently is true--recourse must be had to others who do possess it."

The second question the Court had to address was whether Daugherty's testimony was requested in order to obtain information in aid of the legislative function. In rejecting the lower court's determination that the Senate had attempted to perform a judicial function, the Court concluded that the information obtained from Daugherty's testimony could be used as an aid in drafting future laws. As Van Devanter opined: "The only legitimate object the Senate could have in ordering the investigation was to aid it in legislating, and we think the subject matter was such that the presumption should be indulged that this was the real object. An express avowal of the object would have been better; but in view of the particular subject matter was not indispensable."

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1918 to 1940McGrain v. Daugherty - Teapot Dome, Daugherty's Brother Is Called To Testify, Mcgrain Prevails In High Court