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Barenblatt v. United States

Government Interest In Self-preservation Found To Outweigh First Amendment Concerns

Whereas before HUAC, Barenblatt had relied on his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, his petition for judicial review of his contempt conviction cited his First Amendment right to freedom of speech and association. Justice Harlan, in his opinion for the Court, now had no trouble dismissing such concerns--as well as the Court's own recent precedent.

Undeniably, the First Amendment in some circumstances protects an individual from being compelled to disclose his associational relationships. However, protections of the First Amendment, unlike a proper claim of the privilege against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment, do not afford a witness the right to resist inquiry in all circumstances. Where First Amendment rights are asserted to bar governmental interrogation, resolution of the issue always involves a balancing by the courts of the competing private and public interests at stake in the particular circumstances shown. These principles were recognized in the Watkins Case, where, in speaking of the First Amendment in relation to congressional inquiries, we said . . . : "It is manifest that despite the adverse effects which follow upon compelled disclosure of private matters, not all such inquiries are barred . . . "

Barenblatt has never been formally overturned. However, as the heat of public sentiment against the supposed Red Menace cooled and the power of HUAC waned, the Supreme Court once again began to reverse the convictions of witnesses who proved unwilling to cooperate with sometimes intrusive congressional investigations.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1954 to 1962Barenblatt v. United States - Significance, Government Interest In Self-preservation Found To Outweigh First Amendment Concerns, The Hollywood Ten