Sweezy v. New Hampshire

RESPONDENT: New Hampshire
LOCATION: Quality Photo Shop

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1957-1958)

CITATION: 354 US 234 (1957)
ARGUED: Mar 05, 1957
DECIDED: Jun 17, 1957

Facts of the case

The legislative body of the New Hampshire adopted the Subversive Activities Act. The document established the definition of a subversive person as someone engaged in the actions to overthrow the government.

Teachers and others workers of the educational establishments were obligated to act under the legal regulations. In 1953 the authority empowered the attorney general with the duties to investigate destructive activities.

Paul Sweezy supported the ideas of socialism and took part in the membership of the Progressive Party, and co-author of the article that charged the USA with the usage of the violence to adhere the capitalism. He conducted lectures on this issue at the University of New Hampshire.

Sweezy was questioned, and he affirmed that he had no relations to the communists and the incitement to the state riot. He considered himself as socialist but supported only non-forced methods of the state changes. In addition, he noted that he attended few organizations observed by the attorney general. But Sweezy declined the demand to answer some questions regarding Progressive Party, Wallace campaign, the purposes of his lectures.

Attorney General initiated a new interrogation with Sweezy to obtain all his answers. The defendant confirmed his previous answers and refused to respond the other queries stating that they did not refer to the subject and violated his freedom of the speech right.

Thus, the attorney general claimed to the state trial to obligate Sweezy to give all statements. The court confirmed the position and appointed him as a witness, but he didn`t respond the all questions as he considered them as not connected to the main issue.

The court charged him with the contempt and condemned the sentence. But the defendant filed a claim to the Supreme Court of New Hampshire that found such interrogation as the breach of his constitutional rights to free speech.

The judges rejected the affirmations that state`s interest, in this case, was higher than personal guarantees.

The case was handed out by the Supreme Court that confirmed the position of the appellant. The case study of Sweezy v. New Hampshire underlined that this investigation interfered with the plaintiff`s rights under the First Amendment. The judges noted that these guarantees didn`t depend on the person`s politic opinions and were protected equally.


Media for Sweezy v. New Hampshire

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 05, 1957 in Sweezy v. New Hampshire

Earl Warren:

Number 175, Paul M. Sweezy versus State of New Hampshire by Louis C. Wyman, Attorney General.

Mr. Emerson.

Thomas I. Emerson:

May it please the Court.

This is an appeal from a decision of the Supreme Court of New Hampshire upholding appellant's conviction of contempt in Court.

The contempt arose out of appellant's refusal to answer certain questions which were propounded to him by the Attorney General of New Hampshire acting in the capacity of a legislative investigating committee which was investigating subversive activities in New Hampshire.

Appellant answered all the questions with regard to the user advocacy of force or violence to overthrow Government and also all questions with respect to membership or influence of the Communist Party.

But he refused to answer certain questions as to the contents of a lecture on socialism which he had given at the University of New Hampshire and also, on the activities of his wife and two others in the formation and operation of the progressive party in New Hampshire.

The basic issue is whether appellant can be forced by a state legislative investigating committee to answer questions which go beyond the area of force and violence and Communist activity and would seek to probe into the area of academic discussion and lawful political organization.

There are three issues on the merits.

First Amendment issue, a due process issue, and the question whether federal legislation has preempted the field under the Pennsylvania against Nelson case.

There is also a jurisdictional issue and the Court postponed consideration of jurisdiction until argument on the merits.

Since that order of the Court was issued, I think the jurisdictional question has been pretty well settled by a certificate issued by the Supreme Court of New Hampshire which appears on the last page of our brief.

There was never any issue with respect to the First Amendment.

That issue was raised from the beginning, pressed through out and passed upon by the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

The due process issue if I -- I'm -- I should say that when I refer to First Amendment, I -- I mean of course the First Amendment as made applicable to the States under the Fourteenth Amendment.

The due process issue was presented to the New Hampshire Supreme Court and passed upon it in its original opinion.

The only question arose with respect to the preemption issue.

This question for reasons which I need not go into here was not presented to the New Hampshire Supreme Court until a second motion for rehearing which was denied by the New Hampshire Supreme Court without opinion.

It was in that state of the record that the jurisdictional statement was filed.

Since then, however, the Supreme Court of New Hampshire has issued the certificate which appears on Page 78, the last page of our brief in which they say they certify that they considered on the merits the second petition for rehearing and unanimously denied it because the Court was not satisfied that Pennsylvania against Nelson purported to preclude a state legislative investigation of subversive activities.

In light of the Rosenberg against California and similar cases, I think it is clear that the New Hampshire Supreme Court did pass upon the federal question and passed exclusive and rested its decision in fact exclusively on the federal question.

And that therefore, the jurisdictional issue is disposed off.

I might add that the position of the Supreme Court of New Hampshire with respect to this preemption question was considered in a case subsequent to the Sweezy case in Kahn against Wyman which is printed in our brief at page 76.

And that in this case, a per curiam opinion, they did consider in a such -- such detail as I wish to give it the preemption issue.

The Attorney General of New Hampshire raises no question with respect to jurisdiction.

Now, getting to the merits then, it would be necessary for me to develop further the facts with respect to this inquiry.

There are two New Hampshire statutes involved.One is the Subversive Activities act of 1951 which is reprinted in our brief beginning at page 62.

This statute is in two parts, a Sedition Act and a loyalty program.Let me summarize it briefly without attempting the full refinement of the legislation.

It provides that it shall be a felony punishable up to 20 years in prison to do three things, commit any act intended to overthrow or alter the constitutional form of government of the United States for the State of New Hampshire by force or violence.

Two, to advocate or cage by any means, any person to commit or assist in the commission of such an act or violence.