Flaxer v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Roosevelt Bar and Tavern

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

CITATION: 358 US 147 (1958)
ARGUED: Nov 19, 1958
DECIDED: Dec 15, 1958

Facts of the case


Media for Flaxer v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 19, 1958 (Part 2) in Flaxer v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 19, 1958 (Part 1) in Flaxer v. United States

Earl Warren:

Number 60, Abram Flaxer, Petitioner, versus United States of America.

Mr. Rein.

David Rein:

May it please of Court.

This case is here to review a conviction for contempt for refusing to produce certain records before the Subcommittee on Internal Security of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.

The time of the incidence which led to the indictment on this case, the petitioner, Abram Flaxer, who was National President of the National Labor Union, the United Public Workers of America, this union organized members and various continental agencies, federal, state, county, and municipal governments.

In 1951, about which is the time at which the subpoena was served upon him which led to this case.

This union had approximately 35,000 members.

On this number, only about 5% were employed in the Federal Government mostly in the Bureau of Engraving and the Post Office Department and of the Records Administration.

The remaining members of the union were employed in state governments, county governments, and municipal governments throughout the country.

On September 19th, 1951, petitioner was served with subpoena duces tecum from the Subcommittee on Internal Security of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.

This subpoena called to the production of the union's records including certain financial data of the union.

And of the issue which is raised by the indictment in this case, also the names and addresses of all of the union members employed by the Federal Government and the names and addresses of all union members employed by state, county, or municipal governments.

The subpoena bought a signature of Senator McCarran, he was at that time Chairman of the Subcommittee.

The subpoena contained no information as to the subject under inquiry or the reason why the Subcommittee was interested the information.It appears from the record that the subpoena had been prepared by members of the staff and the Subcommittee and apparently without any formal advance approval or authorization by the Subcommittee itself.

Petitioner appeared in response to this subpoena before the Subcommittee on October 5th, 1951.

Only one member of the Subcommittee was present at the time, Senator Watkins.

At the outset of the hearing, petitioner preceded -- objected the proceeding in the absence of a quorum, stating that he did not believe that a single Senator constituted a quorum.

Senator Watkins overruled this objection saying that under the rules of the Senate and of the Subcommittee, he did constitute a quorum for all purposes.

At this hearing, petitioner produced as demanded by the subpoena, the union records would show the amount, the source, and placement deposit of the union's funds, and also organizations to which the union has contributed during the past 12 months.

He was asked and he answered various questions concerning the method of operation of the union and the number of distribution of its members among various governmental agencies.

He brought however, producing the names and addresses of the union's members.

He argued, and I like to turn now to page 7 of our brief in which we quote from the record in which he stated his position as to why he did not wish to produce all the list -- the membership list of the union.

He said that this demand invaded the right of the union to the privacy of its membership records.

And the experience of this country had taught that invasions of this privacy were served to -- to compile blacklists for the sole purpose of destroying unions.

And he said, and I'm quoting now, "Every individual who joins the union, joins it with the confidence and trust supported by tradition and law that the act of joining and maintaining membership is a personal right and freedom that isn't violative."

A request such as the present constitutes a wholesale invasion of such privacy, and the right to be let alone which is protected by the Fourth Amendment.

Every trade union member imposes a special trust in these union offices to protect and preserve that right.

Therefore, to submit to the request in this subpoena would be a violation of the trust imposed in me by my membership and the betrayal of the entire trade union movement in this country.

I have no doubt that not a single union president which find it possible to comply with such a request.

He said, "I'm confident that the members of this committee, after considering my views and after studying the full implications of their request made in this subpoena realized its conflict with the basic union traditions of this country now incorporated to federal law and withdraw the demand for membership lists."