Braden v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: John H. Kerr Dam and Reservoir

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 365 US 431 (1961)
ARGUED: Nov 17, 1960
DECIDED: Feb 27, 1961

Facts of the case


Media for Braden v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 17, 1960 in Braden v. United States

Earl Warren:

Number 54, Carl Braden, Petitioner, versus the United States.

Mr. Boudin.

Leonard B. Boudin:

May it please the Court.

The petitioner, Carl Braden was convicted of contempt of Congress under 2 U.S.C. 192 as a result of his refusal to answer certain questions put to him in Atlanta, Georgia on July 30th, 1958 by the House Committee on Un-American Activities.

The questions are set forth on page 3 of the petitioner's brief and in pages 3 to 5 of the record on appeal.

Since there is some ambiguity in the questions at least as they appear, I shall, of course, have to explain something of the context which they were put.

The petitioner is and was one of two field secretaries, the other being his wife, of the Southern Conference Educational Fund, an organization interested in furthering the cause of racial integration through education.

The President is Mr. Aubrey Williams, who is the Director of the National Youth Administration under the late President Roosevelt.

The petitioner has been active even before that employment in the field of racial integration, having and -- was indicted in Kentucky under a state law for sedition, as a result of having aided a Negro to purchase a house in a white community.

The sedition indictment and conviction were eventually overruled as a result of this Court's decision in Pennsylvania against Nelson, which played a part in petitioner's hearing before the House Committee.

On May 21, 1958, the House Committee passed a resolution which appeared on page 137 of the record, directing that hearings to be held in Atlanta, Georgia on three subjects.

The first is what it called, Communist organization and infiltration in the textile and other basic industries located in the South.

The Second is Communist propaganda activities in the South and the third, the entry and dissemination within the United States, of foreign Communist Party propaganda.

And they say at the beginning, that while the Government's brief in opposing certiorari states on page 2, we think is the fact that the actual subject matter of these hearings was, "Communist infiltration of Southern industry."

I emphasize that word because there is no suggestion that Mr. Braden ever had any connection with the textile or other industry.

Actually, the Government takes the position, that all three of the subjects of the current investigation.

Now, Your Honors will recall, I said May 22 was the date of this Committee resolution, May 21.

Between May 21, 1958 and July 23, 1958, when Mr. Braden was served with a subpoena, directing him to appear on the second day of the hearing on July 30th, he continued to be engaged in his activities on behalf of the Southern Conference Educational Fund.

And he did two other things which were the subject to the hearings.

First, he played a part, the Committee believed he paid -- played a major part, in a letter sent on or delivered but certainly bearing the date of July 22, 1958 to the members of Congress and signed by 200 Negro leaders in the South, asking the Congress not to commit the House Committee to carryout its contended visit to Atlanta, Georgia, on the theory that the Committee would -- that there would be a confusion between Un-American Activities and what went out, it were regarded by many people in the South with Un-American Activities, namely, furthering racial integration.

That was July 22, which happens to be the date of the subpoena that was issued to Mr. Braden and served on him on July 23.

In addition, there appears in the record here, a letter, I should say, by the way, that the minister -- the Negro leader's letter is at page 98 of the record, but there appears in addition, what I will refer to as -- well, the sedition letter, though it's very far from being seditious.

It appears on 107 and 108 of the record and also at page 116 of the record and that is a letter which Mr. Braden and his wife, on the letterhead of this -- of the Southern Conference Educational Fund, wrote to the public, to their fellow citizens asking them to oppose three bills then pending in Congress, which would have had the effect of overturning the decision of this Court in Pennsylvania against Nelson.

That by the way is the very letter which is the subject of Count 5, of the indictment.

Mr. Braden appeared at the congressional committee hearing on the second day in Atlanta.

He had been served incidentally, while vacationing at the seashore home of Mr. Harvey O'Connor, the Chairman of the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee, a committee directed principally towards the vindication of civil liberties, a contrary distinction of Southern Conference was interested in the civil rights, that distinction can be made.

Mr. O'Connor is a well-known biographer of industrial leaders principally and headed by then, Mr. Braden and its entire family to spend their time in Little Compton, Rhode Island, not Newport but near Newport.

I mention that because Your Honors will see that two other counts referred to the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee.

When Mr. Braden appeared on the second day, he was interrogated by Mr. Arens, the counsel to the House of Un-American Activities Committee, on this subject of the letter which had been sent by the Negro leaders.

The interrogation appears at 97 of the record and includes an attack upon a Negro leaders by Congressman Jackson, who first charged to that point that they were, were practically Communists and later on, at the end of the record, after some further thought, said, perhaps they were only dukes and gave them a chance to exculpate themselves by writing to the Committee and saying that they really didn't know what they were doing, Your Honors can see that.