Wilkinson v. United States

PETITIONER: Frank Wilkinson
RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division

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

CITATION: 365 US 399 (1961)
ARGUED: Nov 17, 1960
DECIDED: Feb 27, 1961
GRANTED: Mar 28, 1960

Kevin T. Maroney - for the respondent
Rowland Watts - for the petitioner

Facts of the case

Frank Wilkinson was summoned to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia for questioning before a subcommittee of the House Un-American Activities Committee. The subcommittee was investigating Communist propaganda in the southern United States. Wilkinson refused to answer any questions, including whether he was a member of the Communist Party. He did not invoke his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and argued instead that the subcommittee had no authority to interrogate him. Wilkinson also argued that he was only called before the subcommittee because of his public opposition to the Un-American Activities Committee. Wilkinson was incited and convicted for contempt of Congress. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the conviction.


(1) Were the questions asked of Wilkinson pertinent to the subjects under inquiry?

(2) Did the subcommittee have the authority to question Wilkinson?

Media for Wilkinson v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 17, 1960 in Wilkinson v. United States

Earl Warren:

Number 37, Frank Wilkinson, Petitioner versus the United States.

Mr. Watts.

Rowland Watts:

Mr. Chief Justice, Your Honors, and may it please the Court.

This case now before you, Frank Wilkinson versus the United States, you have already heard considerable about in the argument earlier today.

I will not burden the Court by repetition of that argument except insofar as the Court desires or it becomes pertinent to the case of Frank Wilkinson.

Frank Wilkinson was indicted under 2 U.S.C. 192 for contempt to the Congress for refusal to answer a single question.

So his case is simplified by the fact that there is only a single count upon which the court below ruled.

Frank Wilkinson had been subpoenaed to appear before a Subcommittee of the House Un-American Activities Committee in Atlanta in July of 1958.

This Committee had, as its directive from the full Committee, the Subcommittee, three purposes to investigate colonizing activities of the Communist Party in textile and other industry in the South, investigation of dissemination of foreign political propaganda in the South, and investigation of Communist propaganda activity in the South.

Mr. Wilkinson was subpoenaed according to the statement of the counsel for the Committee, on page 30 of the record and on page 156 of the record.

Page 156 of the record is a testimony -- the hearing -- the report of the hearings by the House Committee and the 156 number is down in the lower right hand corner.

It is information of the Committee and the suggestion of the Committee said, "Mr. Arens, that in anticipation of the hearings here in Atlanta, Georgia, you were set to this area by the Communist Party for the purpose of developing a hostile sentiment to the Committee and to its work and for the purpose of undertaking to bring pressure upon the United States Congress to preclude these particular hearings."

Mr. Arens also stated --

Hugo L. Black:

Pardon me Mr. Watts.

Mr. Watts, pardon me but I didn't get the pages of the record.

Rowland Watts:

Oh, it's 156 stamped in the corner.

Hugo L. Black:

Thank you.

Rowland Watts:

It's page 2682 of the Committee print.

Hugo L. Black:

Thank you.

Rowland Watts:

Now, there was no suggestion at any time in the testimony of any witness before these particular hearings that Mr. Wilkinson had any knowledge of any of the stated activities for which the subcommittee was authorized to conduct hearings.

On the contrary, there was no indication whatsoever that Mr. Wilkinson had ever been in the South at all.

Now, Mr. Arens stated that he was not -- Mr. Wilkinson was not subpoenaed to appear until the Committee had knowledge that he was in Atlanta.

I suggest on internal evidence that this was somewhat inaccurate because that's a matter of fact, Mr. Wilkinson was served with a subpoena on July 23rd within an hour after he arrived in Atlanta and that is shown on page 40 of the record, the testimonies of the marshal.

And the subpoena was dated the preceding day in Washington, DC.

Therefore, we suggest that while it is not serious that Mr. Arens slipped on that point, it is clearly indicative of the fact that the Committee subpoenaed Mr. Wilkinson before it had any knowledge whatsoever that he was in the South at all, and as a matter of fact before he actually was in the South.

Therefore, it was not possible for the Committee to consider within the framework of its three stated purposes, any testimony by Mr. Wilkinson, and in answer to a parallel question if concerning Mr. Braden this morning.

There is no testimony in the hearing by any member of the Committee or by anyone else that the Committee had any information that Mr. Wilkinson had any relationship to the Communist Party except the testimony, the statement of Mr. Arens, Committee Chairman himself to the effect that they had such testimony.

Now, all of the witnesses that appeared before the Committee prior to the appearance of Mr. Wilkinson, and we conceded that Mr. Wilkinson was present throughout the hearings, heard the opening statement of the Subcommittee Chairman, and so forth.

All the preceding witnesses testify those concerning matter that had some relationship to the purpose of the Subcommittee's hearings.

Mr. Penha, a favorable witness to the Government, testified, as you heard this morning, in identical fashion to what he had testified in Boston earlier.