Russell v. United States

PETITIONER: Norton Anthony Russell
RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia

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

CITATION: 369 US 749 (1962)
ARGUED: Dec 06, 1961 / Dec 07, 1961 / Dec 11, 1961 / Dec 12, 1961
DECIDED: May 21, 1962
GRANTED: Jun 19, 1961

Bruce J. Terris - for the respondent in 9
Frank J. Donner - for the petitioner in 128
Gerhard P. Van Arkel - for the petitioner in 10
Harry I. Rand - for the petitioner in 11
J. William Doolittle, Jr. - for the respondent in 10, 11, and 12
Joseph A. Fanelli - for the petitioner in 8
Joseph L. Rauh, Jr. - for the petitioner in 9
Kevin T. Maroney - for the respondent in 8 and 128
Leonard B. Boudin - for the petitioner in 12

Facts of the case

Six individuals were indicted and convicted for refusing to answer pertinent questions before a grand jury. Each of the individuals moved to squash the conviction because they were not told what the subject of the inquiry was, so had no basis for determining what questions were pertinent. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia affirmed the convictions.


Does a grand jury have to identify the subject of their inquiry when indicting an individual for refusing to answer pertinent questions?

Media for Russell v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 11, 1961 in Russell v. United States
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 06, 1961 in Russell v. United States
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 12, 1961 in Russell v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 07, 1961 in Russell v. United States

Earl Warren:

Number 10, Alden Whitman versus United States.

Mr. Van Arkel.

Gerhard P. Van Arkel:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

The petitioner was indicted on 19 counts for declining to answer certain questions of the Senate Internal Subcommittee put to him on January 6, 1956.

He was tried without a jury.

He was convicted on all counts.

He was sentenced to a term of 6 months suspended prison sentence and a fine of $500.00.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia affirmed the conviction and Your Honors granted certiorari.

At the time of his appearance before the subcommittee on internal security, the petitioner appropriately raised questions concerning the authority of the subcommittee and concerning the pertinency of the questions which were asked him, objections which were renewed throughout the course of his interrogation.

He answered fully all questions concerning his own acknowledged membership in the Communist Party between the years 1935 and 1948 and made it entirely clear to the committee that all of his activities have been lawful, political activities when engaged in.

He declined, however, to answer any questions which sought the names of persons who have been associated with him in the Communist Party or from which their identity might readily be ascertained.

At his trial, the petitioner took the stand in his own defense; he testified at some length concerning the reasons which had led him to the depths of the depression in 1935 to become a member of the Communist Party.

The fact that his studies in history --

Felix Frankfurter:

How old was he then?

Gerhard P. Van Arkel:

He had just graduated from college, Justice Frankfurter, Harvard incidentally Mr. Justice.

Earl Warren:

In 1935?

Gerhard P. Van Arkel:

In 1935 -- well, I believe he graduated in '34 in the event he was comparatively recently out of college.

He explained that his studies of history had convinced him that third parties had exercised an energizing influence in American political life.

He described at some length or offered to prove his activities within the party which were the usual rather humdrum activities attending public meetings, distributing leaflets, selling copies of the Daily Worker and the rest of it.

He made it clear that his membership in the party had not been clandestine, that it was known to his friends and associates, that he engaged in no conspiratorial activities and that the same was true so far he was aware of those who were associated with him in the party.

Indeed there is, if the Court please, a striking parallel between the reasons for his entering the party and his activities within it and those of (Inaudible) which Your Honors held were insufficient to warn his exclusion from the bar.

He also testified at length concerning his growing disinterest in the party; his eventual dissatisfaction with it and his reasons for leaving the party in 1948, some 8 years prior to the time of his interrogation by the subcommittee.

He was asked at trial to state his reasons for declining to answer the questions which had been put to him and he responded as follows; I read from page 9 of our brief and I omit some portions of his answer.

He said, ?I felt that by I being compelled to answer the questions which I decline to answer that I would be cast in the role of an informer.

Unlike most Americans, I have been brought up to despise and deplore the tattletale, the squealer and the informer.

I felt I would be violating the principles and tenets on which I have been brought up, if I were asked to assume that role.

I felt that I knew that I have engaged only during the period of Communist Party membership only in lawful activity.

I knew that my associates had engaged only during the period on Communist Party membership only in lawful activity.

I felt that as a result of what I knew to be the case, that if I were to name names to be an informer, that the result would be terrible trouble on the shoulders and the heads of people to were as innocent as I of any wrongdoing.

I was confirmed in this belief by the fact that I knew my own knowledge of people who had lost jobs, whose careers have been wrecked; whose families have been upset, whose children have been dislocated purely because I have been exposed to the committee by somebody for what in its own time had been perfectly legal activity.