Silber v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: The Borden Company - Chicago Milk Division

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

CITATION: 370 US 717 (1962)
ARGUED: Apr 19, 1962
DECIDED: Jun 25, 1962

Facts of the case


Media for Silber v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 19, 1962 in Silber v. United States

Earl Warren:

Number 454 Bernard Silber, Petitioner, versus United States.

Mr. Rabinowitz.

Victor Rabinowitz:

May it please the Court.

Mr. Silber is another one of those cases that came between the decisions in Wilkinson and Barenblatt.

He was called in the same inquiry, same investigation as Mr. Grumman in the immediate preceding case.

He was represented by me at the congressional committee hearing and at his trial.

He was tried a week or two after the Allen case, although his testimony before the Committee was some months before Allen's testimony.

He was convicted for violation of Section 192 on three Counts for refusal to answer three questions and received a sentence of four months.

The subject under inquiry as announced by the Committee was communist penetration into the communications industry.

It has been discussed by previous counsel on the previous case and I might add that this was the fourth hearing held by congressional committees on this very same subject.

The petitioner appeared subject to the subpoena.

He said that he had been employed by Western Union for 41 years.

He said that he had been a member of the Communist Party, that he had joined the Communist Party in 1948, that he had -- that hearing was in 1957, that he had been a member for about a year, that he had attended meetings he said rarely during that period of time and then he dropped out because he found that he wasn't much interested and that he was interested in other things.

Now, one would have thought that if this Committee was interested in sabotage, espionage, communist control of the communications industry, this man would have been affined.

He was a man who admitted having been a member of the Communist Party for a period of a year in the communications industry, employed by Western Union presumably in a position to give the very kind of information that the Committee was interested at.

No questions with relation to espionage, sabotage, communist control were asked.

Instead, the Committee following its incessant and unremitting quest for names moved immediately into that area.

The first question which is the subject of the indictment here Count 1 was, “Was the person who recruited you a communications' worker?"

And Mr. Silber had answered the questions up to that time but at least he bought and he said he must decline to answer this question.

I might say that Mr. Silber was an elderly gentleman, now on pension, not very articulate.

And when he said I must decline, the Committee counsel asked him why.

And he said on the basis of the Watkins and Sweezy decisions and also that Mr. Grumman who had testified two weeks before had filed a long statement with the Committee and he said, “I want to rely on all of the grounds that was stated by Mr. Grumman in his testimony which include the lack of jurisdiction of the Committee, rights under the First Amendment of vagueness of the resolution setting up the Committee, the lack of a Pertinency of the question.”

All of those grounds which had been suggested by the Watkins decision which is I say, had come down six weeks before.

And counsel at this point said to him, counsel for the Committee said to him, asked leave to -- “Explain to the witness why this question was pertinent.”

And he said, “This Committee is considering legislation to safeguard this nation from possible espionage or sabotage facilities by Congress.”

If the person who enlisted you which of the Communist Party was engaged in the communications field, that person undoubtedly would have some information which will be of used to this Committee in developing facts and respecting communist penetration of the communications facilities of this country.

And the witness was directed to answer the question again and I mean -- and witness said, “I'm very sorry.

My conscience prohibits me from answering this.”

And on three or four other occasions during the course of the hearing when other questions of a similar nature were asked, he repeated the grounds that had previously been given summarizing in a layman's fashion when he conceived to be the hauling for the Watkins case, conceived I regret to say incorrectly.

He said, “I'm sorry but I have a conscience.”