United States v. Monsanto

PETITIONER: United States
LOCATION: Highway 395, Inyo County, California

DOCKET NO.: 88-454
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

CITATION: 491 US 600 (1989)
ARGUED: Mar 21, 1989
DECIDED: Jun 22, 1989

Edward M. Chikofsky - on behalf of the Petitioner
William C. Bryson - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. Monsanto

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 21, 1989 in United States v. Monsanto

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument next in No. 88-454, United States against Monsanto.

Mr. Chikofsky, you may... Mr. Chikofsky... excuse me... you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Edward M. Chikofsky:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

This case presents another side of the coin of the question that the Court has been hearing for the last hour with regard to a question involving a defendant's right to retain counsel of his own choosing to defend him in his controversy with his sovereign, and the government's ability to interfere with that right by stripping the defendant at the outset of the criminal proceedings of his economic resources by which he may defend himself.

But I think that a very important point that is also raised in this case that has only been adverted to but briefly is the question that should be considered here as to whether or not Congress, in enacting the Comprehensive Forfeiture Act of 1984 in resolving this question, even realized that its enactment of the statute in question, authorizing a restraint of all of a defendant's enumerated assets prior to trial, would totally abrogate a defendant's ability to retain counsel, much less whether Congress expressly intended to do so.

William H. Rehnquist:

When you say realized, you don't use that word as synonymous with intended, do you?

Edward M. Chikofsky:


In fact, I am making a... a distinction between whether or not it realized it was doing so in the first instance, or whether it intended to do so.

And it's our--

William H. Rehnquist:

Congress I'm sure enacts many laws which have consequences that it doesn't realize.

I mean, we see them here all the time.


Edward M. Chikofsky:

--Absolute... absolutely.

However, I think there is... as this Court well recognizes and our discussion of the Catholic Bishop line of cases enumerates that there is a great difference in this Court's analysis of a congressional statute where serious constitutional ramifications are raised by Congress' possible lack of consideration of a particular issue or whether we're dealing with a simple statute... a question of statutory construction.

In Sedima, you didn't have necessarily, for example, any serious constitutional overtones.

It was merely a question of whether Congress in enacting a particular statute intended it to cover a certain course of conduct or not.

In this case, this has been a statute that was enacted in order to... admittedly to tighten the pretrial restraint and the criminal--

Byron R. White:

xxx you're suggesting that perhaps we shouldn't... we shouldn't just take the words Congress used at face value.

Is that it?

Edward M. Chikofsky:

--I'm saying that you cannot do that if one is going to be consonant with Catholic Bishop.

In fact, the Catholic Bishop opposes the test in exactly the opposite way.

They say that where a serious constitutional question is raised, unless Congress has spoken with an expressly clear voice, either in the words of the statute or in its legislative history, to intend to have that kind of an impact or that it, in fact, at least considered the issue, that under those particular circumstances, the statute must be construed in such a way as to avoid the constitutional question following the prudential concerns in the Ashwander decision.

Antonin Scalia:

We have later cases after Catholic Bishops that say that you don't avoid constitutional questions by reading a statute to say something it doesn't say.

I mean, the... the object of avoiding serious constitutional question doesn't give us a charter to rewrite statutes.

Edward M. Chikofsky:

This is true.

Antonin Scalia:

And there's just no exception here for attorneys' fees.

Edward M. Chikofsky:

There's no exception for attorneys' fees, but I think what's important is... is that when... when this statute was passed, there was no consideration as to the possible Sixth Amendment ramifications that would exist.

Antonin Scalia:

It may have been one of the mistakes that the Chief Justice was referring to.

And maybe... maybe we have to decide whether it violates the Sixth Amendment or not.

And if it does, then it's no good; and if it doesn't, then... then it's harsh, but okay.