Section 1: Legislative Powers
Separation of Powers and Checks and Balances The Constitution nowhere contains an express injunction to preserve the boundaries of the three broad powers it grants, nor does it expressly enjoin maintenance of a system of checks and balances. Yet, it does grant to three separate branches the powers to legislate, to execute, and to adjudicate, and it provides throughout the document the means by which each of the branches could resist the blandishments and incursions of the others. The Framers drew up our basic charter against a background rich in the theorizing of scholars and statesmen regarding the proper ordering in a system of government of conferring sufficient power to govern while withholding the ability to abridge the liberties of the governed.
The Theory Elaborated and Implemented
When the colonies separated from Great Britain following the Revolution, the framers of their constitutions were imbued with the profound tradition of separation of powers, and they freely and expressly embodied the principle in their charters. But the theory of checks and balances was not favored because it was drawn from Great Britain, and, as a consequence, violations of the separation-of-powers doctrine by the legislatures of the States were common-place events prior to the convening of the Convention. Theory as much as experience guided the Framers in the summer of 1787.
The doctrine of separation of powers, as implemented in drafting the Constitution, was based on several principles generally held: the separation of government into three branches, legislative, executive, and judicial; the conception that each branch performs unique and identifiable functions that are appropriate to each; and the limitation of the personnel of each branch to that branch, so that no one person or group should be able to serve in more than one branch simultaneously. To a great extent, the Constitution effectuated these principles, but critics objected to what they regarded as a curious intermixture of functions, to, for example, the veto power of the President over legislation and to the role of the Senate in the appointment of executive officers and judges and in the treaty-making process. It was to these objections that Madison turned in a powerful series of essays.
Madison recurred to "the celebrated" Montesquieu, the "oracle who is always consulted," to disprove the contentions of the critics. "[T]his essential precaution in favor of liberty," that is, the separation of the three great functions of government, had been achieved, but the doctrine did not demand rigid separation. Montesquieu and other theorists "did not mean that these departments ought to have no partial agency in, or control over, the acts of each other," but rather liberty was endangered "where the whole power of one department is exercised by the same hands which possess the whole power of another department." That the doctrine did not demand absolute separation provided the basis for preservation of separation of powers in action. Neither sharply drawn demarcations of institutional boundaries nor appeals to the electorate were sufficient. Instead, the security against concentration of powers "consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others." Thus, "[a]mbition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place."
Institutional devices to achieve these principles pervade the Constitution. Bicameralism reduces legislative predominance, while the presidential veto gives to the Chief Magistrate a means of defending himself and of preventing congressional overreaching. The Senate's role in appointments and treaties checks the President. The courts are assured independence through good behavior tenure and security of compensation, and the judges through judicial review will check the other two branches. The impeachment power gives to Congress the authority to root out corruption and abuse of power in the other two branches. And so on.
Throughout much of our history, the "political branches" have contended between themselves in application of the separation-of-powers doctrine. Many notable political disputes turned on questions involving the doctrine. Inasmuch as the doctrines of separation of powers and of checks and balances require both separation and intermixture, the role of the Supreme Court in policing the maintenance of the two doctrines is problematic at best. And, indeed, it is only in the last two decades that cases involving the doctrines have regularly been decided by the Court. Previously, informed understandings of the principles have underlain judicial construction of particular clauses or guided formulation of constitutional common law. That is, the nondelegation doctrine was from the beginning suffused with a separation-of-powers premise, and the effective demise of the doctrine as a judicially-enforceable construct reflects the Court's inability to give any meaningful content to it. On the other hand, periodically, the Court has essayed a strong separation position on behalf of the President, sometimes with lack of success, sometimes successfully.
Following a lengthy period of relative inattention to separation of powers issues, the Court since 1976 has recurred to the doctrine in numerous cases, and the result has been a substantial curtailing of congressional discretion to structure the National Government. Thus, the Court has interposed constitutional barriers to a congressional scheme to provide for a relatively automatic deficit-reduction process because of the critical involvement of an officer with significant legislative ties, to the practice set out in more than 200 congressional enactments establishing a veto of executive actions, and to the vesting of broad judicial powers to handle bankruptcy cases in officers not possessing security of tenure and salary. On the other hand, the highly-debated establishment by Congress of a process by which independent special prosecutors could be established to investigate and prosecute cases of alleged corruption in the Executive Branch was sustained by the Court in a opinion that may presage a judicial approach in separation of powers cases more accepting of some blending of functions at the federal level.
Important as the results were in this series of cases, the development of two separate and inconsistent doctrinal approaches to separation of powers issues occasioned the greatest amount of commentary. The existence of the two approaches, which could apparently be employed in the discretion of the Justices, made difficult the prediction of the outcomes of differences over proposals and alternatives in governmental policy. Significantly, however, it appeared that the Court most often used a more strict analysis in cases in which infringements of executive powers were alleged and a less strict analysis when the powers of the other two Branches were concerned. The special prosecutor decision, followed by the decision sustaining the Sentencing Commission, may signal the adoption of a single analysis, the less strict analysis, for all separation of power cases or it may turn out to be but an exception to the Court's dual doctrinal approach.
While the two doctrines have been variously characterized, the names generally attached to them have been "formalist," applied to the more strict line, and "functional," applied to the less strict. The formalist approach emphasizes the necessity to maintain three distinct branches of government through the drawing of bright lines demarcating the three branches from each other determined by the differences among legislating, executing, and adjudicating. The functional approach emphasizes the core functions of each branch and asks whether the challenged action threatens the essential attributes of the legislative, executive, or judicial function or functions. Under this approach, there is considerable flexibility in the moving branch, usually Congress acting to make structural or institutional change, if there is little significant risk of impairment of a core function or in the case of such a risk if there is a compelling reason for the action.
Chadha used the formalist approach to invalidate the legislative veto device by which Congress could set aside a determination by the Attorney General, pursuant to a delegation from Congress, to suspend deportation of an alien. Central to the decision were two conceptual premises. First, the action Congress had taken was legislative, because it had the purpose and effect of altering the legal rights, duties, and relations of persons outside the Legislative Branch, and thus Congress had to comply with the bicameralism and presentment requirements of the Constitution. Second, the Attorney General was performing an executive function in implementing the delegation from Congress, and the legislative veto was an impermissible interference in the execution of the laws. Congress could act only by legislating, by changing the terms of its delegation. In Bowsher, the Court held that Congress could not vest even part of the execution of the laws in an officer, the Comptroller General, who was subject to removal by Congress because this would enable Congress to play a role in the execution of the laws. Congress could act only by passing other laws.
On the same day that Bowsher was decided through a formalist analysis, the Court in Schor utilized the less strict, functional approach in resolving a challenge to the power of a regulatory agency to adjudicate as part of a larger canvas a state common-law issue, the very kind of issue that Northern Pipeline, in a formalist plurality opinion with a more limited concurrence, had denied to a non-Article III bankruptcy court. Sustaining the agency's power, the Court emphasized "the principle that 'practical attention to substance rather than doctrinaire reliance on formal categories should inform application of Article III.'" It held that in evaluating such a separation of powers challenge, the Court had to consider the extent to which the "essential attributes of judicial power" were reserved to Article III courts and conversely the extent to which the non-Article III entity exercised the jurisdiction and powers normally vested only in Article III courts, the origin and importance of the rights to be adjudicated, and the concerns that drove Congress to depart from the requirements of Article III.
Bowsher, the Court said, was not contrary, because "[u]nlike Bowsher, this case raises no question of the aggrandizement of congressional power at the expense of a coordinate branch." The test was a balancing one, whether Congress had impermissibly undermined the role of another branch without appreciable expansion of its own power.
While the Court, in applying one or the other analysis in separation of powers cases, had never indicated its standards for choosing one analysis over the other, beyond inferences that the formalist approach was proper when the Constitution fairly clearly committed a function or duty to a particular branch and the functional approach was proper when the constitutional text was indeterminate and a determination must be made on the basis of the likelihood of impairment of the essential powers of a branch, the overall results had been a strenuous protection of executive powers and a concomitant relaxed view of the possible incursions into the powers of the other branches. It was thus a surprise, then, when in the independent counsel case, the Court, again without stating why it chose that analysis, utilized the functional standard to sustain the creation of the independent counsel. The independent-counsel statute, the Court emphasized, was not an attempt by Congress to increase its own power at the expense of the executive nor did it constitute a judicial usurpation of executive power. Moreover, the Court stated, the law did not "impermissibly undermine" the powers of the Executive Branch nor did it "disrupt the proper balance between the coordinate branches [by] prevent[ing] the Executive Branch from accomplishing its constitutionally assigned functions." Acknowledging that the statute undeniably reduced executive control over what it had previously identified as a core executive function, the execution of the laws through criminal prosecution , through its appointment provisions and its assurance of independence by limitation of removal to a "good cause" standard, the Court nonetheless noticed the circumscribed nature of the reduction, the discretion of the Attorney General to initiate appointment, the limited jurisdiction of the counsel, and the power of the Attorney General to ensure that the laws are faithfully executed by the counsel. This balancing, the Court thought, left the President with sufficient control to ensure that he is able to perform his constitutionally assigned functions. A notably more pragmatic, functional analysis suffused the opinion of the Court when it upheld the constitutionality of the Sentencing Commission. Charged with promulgating guidelines binding on federal judges in sentencing convicted offenders, the seven-member Commission, three members of which had to be Article III judges, was made an independent entity in the judicial branch. The President appointed all seven members, the judges from a list compiled by the Judicial Conference, and he could remove from the Commission any member for cause. According to the Court, its separation-of- powers jurisprudence is always animated by the concerns of encroachment and aggrandizement. "Accordingly, we have not hesitated to strike down provisions of law that either accrete to a single Branch powers more appropriately diffused among separate Branches or that undermine the authority and independence of one or another coordinate Branch." Thus, to each of the discrete questions, the placement of the Commission, the appointment of the members, especially the service of federal judges, and the removal power, the Court carefully analyzed whether one branch had been given power it could not exercise or had enlarged its powers impermissibly and whether any branch would have its institutional integrity threatened by the structural arrangement.
Although it is possible, even likely, that Morrison and Mistretta represent a decision by the Court to adopt for all separation-of-powers cases the functional analysis, the history of adjudication since 1976 and the shift of approach between Myers and Humphrey's Executor suggest caution. Recurrences of the formalist approach have been noted. Additional decisions must be forthcoming before it can be decided that the Court has finally settled on the functional approach.
By providing for a National Legislature of two Houses, the Framers, deliberately or adventitiously, served several functions. Examples of both unicameralism and bicameralism abounded. Some of the ancient republics, to which the Framers often repaired for the learning of experience, had two-house legislatures, and the Parliament of Great Britain was based in two social orders, the hereditary aristocracy represented in the House of Lords and the freeholders of the land represented in the House of Commons. A number of state legislatures, following the Revolution, were created unicameral, and the Continental Congress, limited in power as it was, consisted of one house.
From the beginning in the Convention, in the Virginia Plan, a two-house Congress was called for. The Great Compromise, one of the critical decisions leading to a successful completion of the Convention, resolved the dispute about the national legislature by providing for a House of Representatives apportioned on population and a Senate in which the States were equally represented. The first function served, thus, was federalism. Coextensively important, however, was the separation-of-powers principle served. The legislative power, the Framers both knew and feared, was predominant in a society dependent upon the suffrage of the people, and it was important to have a precaution against the triumph of transient majorities. Hence, the Constitution's requirement that before lawmaking could be carried out bills must be deliberated in two Houses, their Members beholden to different constituencies, was in pursuit of this observation from experience.
Events since 1787, of course, have altered both the separation-of-powers and the federalism bases of bicameralism, in particular the adoption of the Seventeenth Amendment resulting in the popular election of Senators, so that the differences between the two Chambers are today less pronounced.
Enumerated, implied, resulting, and inherent Powers
Two important doctrines of constitutional law-that the Federal Government is one of enumerated powers and that legislative powers may not be delegated-are derived in part from this section. The classical statement of the former is that by Chief Justice Marshall in McCulloch v. Maryland: "This government is acknowledged by all, to be one of enumerated powers. The principle, that it can exercise only the powers granted to it, would seem too apparent, to have required to be enforced by all those arguments, which its enlightened friends, while it was depending before the people, found it necessary to urge; that principle is now universally admitted." That, however, "the executive power" is not confined to those items expressly enumerated in Article II was asserted early in the history of the Constitution by Madison and Hamilton alike and is found in decisions of the Court; a similar latitudinarian conception of "the judicial power of the United States" was voiced in Justice Brewer's opinion for the Court in Kansas v. Colorado. But even when confined to "the legislative powers herein granted," the doctrine is severely strained by Marshall's conception of some of these as set forth in his McCulloch v. Maryland opinion. He asserts that "the sword and the purse, all the external relations and no inconsiderable portion of the industry of the nation, are intrusted to its government;" he characterizes "the power of making war," of "levying taxes," and of "regulating commerce" as "great, substantive and independent powers;" and the power conferred by the "necessary and proper" clause embraces, he declares, all legislative "means which are appropriate" to carry out the legitimate ends of the Constitution, unless forbidden by "the letter and spirit of the Constitution."
Nine years later, Marshall introduced what Story in his Commentaries labels the concept of "resulting powers," those which "rather be a result from the whole mass of the powers of the National Government, and from the nature of political society, than a consequence or incident of the powers specially enumerated." Story's reference is to Marshall's opinion in American Insurance Co. v. Canter, where the latter said, that "the Constitution confers absolutely on the government of the Union, the powers of making war, and of making treaties; consequently, that government possesses the power of acquiring territory, either by conquest or by treaty." And from the power to acquire territory, he continues, arises as "the inevitable consequence" the right to govern it.
Subsequently, powers have been repeatedly ascribed to the National Government by the Court on grounds that ill accord with the doctrine of enumerated powers: the power to legislate in effectuation of the "rights expressly given, and duties expressly enjoined" by the Constitution; the power to impart to the paper currency of the Government the quality of legal tender in the payment of debts; the power to acquire territory by discovery; the power to legislate for the Indian tribes wherever situated in the United States; the power to exclude and deport aliens; and to require that those who are admitted be registered and fingerprinted; and finally the complete powers of sovereignty, both those of war and peace, in the conduct of foreign relations. Thus, in United States v. Curtiss-Wright Corp., decided in 1936, Justice Sutherland asserted the dichotomy of domestic and foreign powers, with the former limited under the enumerated powers doctrine and the latter virtually free of any such restraint. That doctrine has been the source of much scholarly and judicial controversy, but, although limited, it has not been repudiated.
Yet, for the most part, these holdings do not, as Justice Sutherland suggested, directly affect "the internal affairs" of the nation; they touch principally its peripheral relations, as it were. The most serious inroads on the doctrine of enumerated powers are, in fact, those which have taken place under cover of the doctrine-the vast expansion in recent years of national legislative power in the regulation of commerce among the States and in the expenditure of the national revenues. Verbally, at least, Marshall laid the ground for these developments in some of the phraseology above quoted from his opinion in McCulloch v. Maryland.
Delegation of legislative Power
The History of the Doctrine of Nondelegability
The Supreme Court has sometimes declared categorically that "the legislative power of Congress cannot be delegated," and on other occasions has recognized more forthrightly, as Chief Justice Marshall did in 1825, that, although Congress may not delegate powers that "are strictly and exclusively legislative," it may delegate "powers which [it] may rightfully exercise itself." The categorical statement has never been literally true, the Court having upheld the delegation at issue in the very case in which the statement was made. The Court has long recognized that administra- tion of the law requires exercise of discretion, and that "in our increasingly complex society, replete with ever changing and more technical problems, Congress simply cannot do its job absent an ability to delegate power under broad general directives." The real issue is where to draw the line. Chief Justice Marshall recognized "that there is some difficulty in discerning the exact limits," and that "the precise boundary of this power is a subject of delicate and difficult inquiry, into which a court will not enter unnecessarily." Accordingly, the Court's solution has been to reject delegation challenges in all but the most extreme cases, and to accept delegations of vast powers to the President or to administrative agencies.
With the exception of a brief period in the 1930's when the Court was striking down New Deal legislation on a variety of grounds, the Court has consistently upheld grants of authority that have been challenged as invalid delegations of legislative power.
The modern doctrine may be traced to the 1928 case J. W. Hampton, Jr. & Co. v. United States, in which the Court, speaking through Chief Justice Taft, upheld Congress' delegation to the President of the authority to set tariff rates that would equalize production costs in the United States and competing countries. Although formally invoking the contingency theory, the Court's opinion also looked forward, emphasizing that in seeking the cooperation of another branch Congress was restrained only according to "common sense and the inherent necessities" of the situation. This vague statement was elaborated somewhat in the statement that the Court would sustain delegations whenever Congress provided an "intelligible principle" to which the President or an agency must conform.
As characterized by the Court, the delegations struck down in 1935 in the Panama Refining and Schechter cases were not only broad but unprecedented. Both cases involved provisions of the National Industrial Recovery Act. At issue in Panama Refining was a delegation to the President of authority to prohibit interstate transportation of what was known as "hot oil" - oil produced in excess of quotas set by state law. The problem was that the Act provided no guidance to the President in determining whether or when to exercise this authority, and required no finding by the President as a condition of exercise of the authority. Congress "declared no policy, . . . established no standard, [and] laid down no rule," but rather "left the matter to the President without standard or rule, to be dealt with as he pleased." At issue in Schechter was a delegation to the President of authority to promulgate codes of fair competition that could be drawn up by industry groups or prescribed by the President on his own initiative. The codes were required to implement the policies of the Act, but those policies were so general as to be nothing more than an endorsement of whatever might be thought to promote the recovery and expansion of the particular trade or industry. The President's authority to approve, condition, or adopt codes on his own initiative was similarly devoid of meaningful standards, and "virtually unfettered." This broad delegation was "without precedent." The Act supplied "no standards" for any trade or industry group, and, unlike other broad delegations that had been upheld, did not set policies that could be implemented by an administrative agency required to follow "appropriate administrative procedure." "Instead of prescribing rules of conduct, [the Act] authorize[d] the making of codes to prescribe them."
Since 1935, the Court has not struck down a delegation to an administrative agency. Rather, the Court has approved, "without deviation, Congress' ability to delegate power under broad standards." The Court has upheld, for example, delegations to administrative agencies to determine "excessive profits" during wartime, to determine "unfair and inequitable distribution of voting power" among securities holders, to fix "fair and equitable" commodities prices, to determine "just and reasonable" rates, and to regulate broadcast licensing as the "public interest, convenience, or necessity require." During all this time the Court "has not seen fit ... to enlarge in the slightest [the] relatively narrow holdings" of Panama Refining and Schechter. Again and again, the Court has distinguished the two cases, sometimes by finding adequate standards in the challenged statute, sometimes by contrasting the vast scope of the power delegated by the National Industrial Recovery Act, and sometimes by pointing to required administrative findings and procedures that were absent in the NIRA. The Court has also relied on the constitutional doubt principle of statutory construction to narrow interpretations of statutes that, interpreted broadly, might have presented delegation issues.
Concerns in the scholarly literature with respect to the scope of the delegation doctrine have been reflected in the opinions of some of the Justices. Nonetheless, the Court's decisions continue to approve very broad delegations, and the practice will likely remain settled.
The fact that the Court has gone so long without holding a statute to be an invalid delegation does not mean that the nondelegation doctrine is a dead letter. The long list of rejected challenges does suggest, however, that the doctrine applies only to standardless delegations of the most sweeping nature.
Notice Clinton v. City of New York, 524 U.S. 417 (1998), in which the Court struck down the Line Item Veto Act, intended by Congress to be a delegation to the President, finding that the authority conferred on the President was legislative power, not executive power, which failed because the presentment clause had not and could not have been complied with. The dissenting Justices argued that the law was properly treated as a delegation and was clearly constitutional. Id. at 453 (Justice Scalia concurring in part and dissenting in part), 469 (Justice Breyer dissenting).
The Nature and Scope of Permissible Delegations
Application of two distinct constitutional principles contributed to the development of the nondelegation doctrine: separation of powers and due process. A rigid application of separation of powers would prevent the lawmaking branch from divesting itself of any of its power and conferring it on one of the other branches. But the doctrine is not so rigidly applied as to prevent conferral of significant authority on the executive branch. In J. W. Hampton, Jr. & Co. v. United States, Chief Justice Taft explained the doctrine's import in the delegation context. "The Federal Constitution . . . divide[s] the governmental power into three branches.... [I]n carrying out that constitutional division . . . it is a breach of the National fundamental law if Congress gives up its legislative power and transfers it to the President, or to the Judicial branch, or if by law it attempts to invest itself or its members with either executive power or judicial power. This is not to say that the three branches are not co-ordinate parts of one government and that each in the field of its duties may not invoke the action of the two other branches in so far as the action invoked shall not be an assumption of the constitutional field of action of another branch. In determining what it may do in seeking assistance from another branch, the extent and character of that assistance must be fixed according to common sense and the inherent necessities of the governmental co-ordination."
In Loving v. United States, the Court distinguished between its usual separation-of- powers doctrine-emphasizing arrogation of power by a branch and impairment of another branch's ability to carry out its functions-and the delegation doctrine, "another branch of our separation of powers jurisdiction," which is informed not by the arrogation and impairment analyses but solely by the provision of standards. This confirmed what had long been evident - that the delegation doctrine is unmoored to traditional separation-of- powers principles.
The second principle underlying delegation law is a due process conception that undergirds delegations to administrative agencies. The Court has contrasted the delegation of authority to a public agency, which typically is required to follow established procedures in building a public record to explain its decisions and to enable a reviewing court to determine whether the agency has stayed within its ambit and complied with the legislative mandate, with delegations to private entities, which typically are not required to adhere to such procedural safeguards.
Two theories suggested themselves to the early Court to justify the results of sustaining delegations. The Chief Justice alluded to the first in Wayman v. Southard. He distinguished between "important" subjects, "which must be entirely regulated by the legislature itself," and subjects "of less interest, in which a general provision may be made, and power given to those who are to act under such general provisions, to fill up the details." While his distinction may be lost, the theory of the power "to fill up the details" remains current. A second theory, formulated even earlier, is that Congress may legislate contingently, leaving to others the task of ascertaining the facts that bring its declared policy into operation.
Filling Up the Details.-In finding a power to "fill up the details," the Court in Wayman v. Southard rejected the contention that Congress had unconstitutionally delegated power to the federal courts to establish rules of practice. Chief Justice Marshall agreed that the rule- making power was a legislative function and that Congress could have formulated the rules itself, but he denied that the delegation was impermissible. Since then, of course, Congress has authorized the Supreme Court to prescribe rules of procedure for the lower federal courts.
Filling up the details of statutes has long been the standard. For example, the Court upheld a statute requiring the manufacturers of oleomargarine to have their packages "marked, stamped and branded as the Commissioner of Internal Revenue . . . shall prescribe," rejecting a contention that the prosecution was not for violation of law but for violation of a regulation. "The criminal of-fence," said Chief Justice Fuller, "is fully and completely defined by the act and the designation by the Commissioner of the particular marks and brands to be used was a mere matter of detail."
Kollock was not the first such case, and it was followed by a multitude of delegations that the Court sustained. In one such case, for example, the Court upheld an act directing the Secretary of the Treasury to promulgate minimum standards of quality and purity for tea imported into the United States.
Contingent Legislation.-An entirely different problem arises when, instead of directing another department of government to apply a general statute to individual cases, or to supplement it by detailed regulation, Congress commands that a previously enacted statute be revived, suspended, or modified, or that a new rule be put into operation, upon the finding of certain facts by an executive or administrative officer. Since the delegated function in such cases is not that of "filling up the details" of a statute, authority for it must be sought under some other theory.
Contingent delegation was approved in an early case, The Brig Aurora, upholding the revival of a law upon the issuance of a presidential proclamation. After previous restraints on British shipping had lapsed, Congress passed a new law stating that those restrictions should be renewed in the event the President found and proclaimed that France had abandoned certain practices that violated the neutral commerce of the United States. To the objection that this was an invalid delegation of legislative power, the Court answered briefly that "we can see no sufficient reason, why the legislature should not exercise its discretion in reviving the act of March 1st, 1809, either expressly or conditionally, as their judgment should direct."
The theory was utilized again in Field v. Clark, where the Tariff Act of 1890 was assailed as unconstitutional because it directed the President to suspend the free importation of enumerated commodities "for such time as he shall deem just" if he found that other countries imposed upon agricultural or other products of the United States duties or other exactions, which "he may deem to be reciprocally unequal and unjust." In sustaining this statute the Court relied heavily upon two factors: (1) legislative precedents, which demonstrated that "in the judgment of the legislative branch of the government, it is often desirable, if not essential, . . . to invest the President with large discretion in matters arising out of the execution of statutes relating to trade and commerce with other nations;" (2) that the act did "not, in any real sense, invest the President with the power of legislation.... Congress itself prescribed, in advance, the duties to be levied, . . . while the suspension lasted. Nothing involving the expediency or the just operation of such legislation was left to the determination of the President.... He had no discretion in the premises except in respect to the duration of the suspension so ordered." By similar reasoning, the Court sustained the flexible provisions of the Tariff Act of 1922 whereby duties were increased or decreased to reflect differences in cost of production at home and abroad, as such differences were ascertained and proclaimed by the President.
Standards.-Implicit in the concept of filling in the details is the idea that there is some intelligible guiding principle or framework to apply. Indeed, the requirement that Congress set forth "intelligible principles" or "standards" to guide as well as limit the agency or official in the performance of its assigned task has been critical to the Court's acceptance of legislative delegations. In theory, the requirement of standards serves two purposes: "it insures that the fundamental policy decisions in our society will be made not by an appointed official but by the body immediately responsible to the people, [and] it prevents judicial review from becoming merely an exercise at large by providing the courts with some measure against which to judge the official action that has been challenged."
The only two instances in which the Court has found an unconstitutional delegation to a public entity have involved grants of discretion that the Court found to be unbounded, hence standardless. Thus, in Panama Refining Co. v. Ryan, the President was authorized to prohibit the shipment in interstate commerce of "hot oil"-oil produced in excess of state quotas. Nowhere - not in the language conferring the authority, nor in the "declaration of policy," nor in any other provision - did the statute specify a policy to guide the President in determining when and under what circumstances to exercise the power. While the scope of granted authority in Panama Refining was narrow, the grant in A.L.A. Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States was sweeping. The National Industrial Recovery Act devolved on the executive branch the power to formulate codes of "fair competition" for all industry in order to promote "the policy of this title." The policy was "to eliminate unfair competitive practices, to promote the fullest possible utilization of the present productive capacity of industries, . . . and otherwise to rehabilitate industry...." Though much of the opinion is written in terms of the failure of these policy statements to provide meaningful standards, the Court was also concerned with the delegation's vast scope - the "virtually unfettered" discretion conferred on the President of "enacting laws for the government of trade and industry throughout the country."
Typically the Court looks to the entire statute to determine whether there is an intelligible standard to guide administrators, and a statute's declaration of policies or statement of purposes can provide the necessary guidance. If a statute's declared policies are not open- ended, then a delegation of authority to implement those policies can be upheld. For example, in United States v. Rock Royal Co-operatives, the Court contrasted the National Industrial Recovery Act's statement of policy, "couched in most general terms" and found lacking in Schechter, with the narrower policy that an agricultural marketing law directed the Secretary of Agriculture to implement. Similarly, the Court found ascertainable standards in the Emergency Price Control Act's conferral of authority to set prices for commodities if their prices had risen in a manner "inconsistent with the purposes of this Act."
The Court has been notably successful in finding standards that are constitutionally adequate. Standards have been ascertained to exist in such formulations as "just and reasonable," "public interest," "public convenience, interest, or necessity," "unfair methods of competition," and "requisite to protect the public health [with] an adequate margin of safety." Thus, in National Broadcasting Co. v. United States, the Court found that the discretion conferred on the Federal Communications Commission to license broadcasting stations to promote the "public interest, convenience, or necessity" conveyed a standard "as complete as the complicated factors for judgment in such a field of delegated authority permit." Yet the regulations upheld were directed to the contractual relations between networks and stations and were designed to reduce the effect of monopoly in the industry, a policy on which the statute was silent. When in the Economic Stabilization Act of 1970, Congress authorized the President "to issue such orders and regulations as he may deem appropriate to stabilize prices, rents, wages, and salaries," and the President responded by imposing broad national controls, the lower court decision sustaining the action was not even appealed to the Supreme Court. Explicit standards are not even required in all situations, the Court having found standards reasonably implicit in a delegation to the Federal Home Loan Bank Board to regulate banking associations.
The Court has recently emphatically rejected the idea that administrative implementation of a congressional enactment may provide the intelligible standard necessary to uphold a delegation. The Court's decision in Lichter v. United States could be read as approving of a bootstrap theory, the Court in that case having upheld the validity of a delegation of authority to recover "excessive profits" as applied to profits earned prior to Congress's incorporation into the statute of the administrative interpretation. In Whitman v. American Trucking Associations, however, the Court asserted that Lichter mentioned agency regulations only "because a subsequent Congress had incorporated the regulations into a revised version of the statute." "We have never suggested that an agency can cure an unlawful delegation of legislative power by adopting in its discretion a limiting construction . . . ," the Court concluded.
Even in "sweeping regulatory schemes" that affect the entire economy, the Court has "never demanded . . . that statutes provide a 'determinate criterion' for saying 'how much [of the regulated harm] is too much.'" Thus Congress need not quantify how "imminent" is too imminent, how "necessary" is necessary enough, how "hazardous" is too hazardous, or how much profit is "excess." Rather, discretion to make such determinations may be conferred on administrative agencies.
While Congress must ordinarily provide some guidance that indicates broad policy objectives, there is no general prohibition on delegating authority that includes the exercise of policy judgment. In Mistretta v. United States, the Court approved congressional delegations to the Sentencing Commission, an independent agency in the judicial branch, to develop and promulgate guidelines binding federal judges and cabining their discretion in sentencing criminal defendants. Although the Court enumerated the standards Congress had provided, it admitted that significant discretion existed with respect to making policy judgments about the relative severity of different crimes and the relative weight of the characteristics of offenders that are to be considered, and stated forth-rightly that delegations may carry with them "the need to exercise judgment on matters of policy." A number of cases illustrate the point. Thus, the Court has upheld complex economic regulations of industries in instances in which the agencies had first denied possession of such power, had unsuccessfully sought authorization from Congress, and had finally acted without the requested congressional guidance. The Court has also recognized that when Administrations change, new officials may have sufficient discretion under governing statutes to change or even reverse agency policies.
It seems therefore reasonably clear that the Court does not really require much in the way of standards from Congress. The minimum which the Court usually insists on is that Congress employ a delegation which "sufficiently marks the field within which the Administrator is to act so that it may be known whether he has kept within it in compliance with the legislative will." Where the congressional standards are combined with requirements of notice and hearing and statements of findings and considerations by the administrators, so that judicial review under due process standards is possible, the constitutional requirements of delegation have been fulfilled. This requirement may be met through the provisions of the Administrative Procedure Act, but where that Act is inapplicable or where the Court sees the necessity for exceeding its provisions, due process can supply the safeguards of required hearing, notice, supporting statements, and the like.
Preemptive Reach of Delegated Authority.-In exercising a delegated power the President or another officer may effectively suspend or rescind a law passed by Congress, or may preempt state law. A rule or regulation properly promulgated under authority received from Congress is law, and under the supremacy clause of the Constitution can preempt state law. Similarly, a valid regulation can supersede a federal statute. Early cases sustained contingency legislation giving the President power, upon the finding of certain facts, to revive or suspend a law, and the President's power to raise or lower tariff rates equipped him to alter statutory law. The Court in Opp Cotton Mills v. Administrator upheld Congress' decision to delegate to the Wage and Hour Administrator of the Labor Department the authority to establish a minimum wage in particular industries greater than the statutory minimum but no higher than a prescribed figure. Congress has not often expressly addressed the issue of repeals or supersessions, but in authorizing the Supreme Court to promulgate rules of civil and criminal procedure and of evidence it directed that such rules supersede previously enacted statutes with which they conflict.
Delegations to the President in Areas of Shared Authority
Foreign Affairs.-That the delegation of discretion in dealing with foreign relations stands upon a different footing than the transfer of authority to regulate domestic concerns was asserted in United States v. Curtiss-Wright Corporation. There the Court upheld a joint resolution of Congress making it unlawful to sell arms to certain warring countries upon certain findings by the President, a typically contingent type of delegation. But Justice Sutherland for the Court proclaimed that the President is largely free of the constitutional constraints imposed by the nondelegation doctrine when he acts in foreign affairs. Sixty years later, the Court, relying on Curtiss-Wright, reinforced such a distinction in a case involving the President's authority over military justice.
Whether or not the President is the "sole organ of the nation" in its foreign relations, as asserted in Curtiss-Wright, a lesser standard of delegation is applied in areas of power shared by the President and Congress.
Military.-Superintendence of the military is another area in which shared power with the President affects delegation doctrine. The Court in Loving v. United States approved a virtually standardless delegation to the President.
Article 118 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) provides for the death penalty for premeditated murder and felony murder for persons subject to the Act, but the statute does not com-port with the Court's capital punishment jurisdiction, which requires the death sentence to be cabined by standards so that the sentencing authority must narrow the class of convicted persons to be so sentenced and must justify the individual imposition of the sentence. However, the President in 1984 had promulgated standards that purported to supply the constitutional validity the UCMJ needed.
The Court in Loving held that Congress could delegate to the President the authority to prescribe standards for the imposition of the death penalty - Congress' power under Article I, § 8, cl. 14, is not exclusive - and that Congress had done so in the UCMJ by providing that the punishment imposed by a court-martial may not exceed "such limits as the President may prescribe." Acknowledging that a delegation must contain some "intelligible principle" to guide the recipient of the delegation, the Court nonetheless held this not to be true when the delegation was made to the President in his role as Commander- in-Chief. "The same limitations on delegation do not apply" if the entity authorized to exercise delegated authority itself possesses independent authority over the subject matter. The President's responsibilities as Commander-in-Chief require him to superintend the military, including the courts-martial, and thus the delegated duty is interlinked with duties already assigned the President by the Constitution.
Delegations to States and to Private Entities
Delegations to the States.-Beginning in the Nation's early years, Congress has enacted hundreds of statutes that contained provisions authorizing state officers to enforce and execute federal laws. Challenges to the practice have been uniformly rejected. While the Court early expressed its doubt that Congress could compel state officers to act, it entertained no such thoughts about the propriety of authorizing them to act if they chose. When, in the Selective Draft Law Cases, the contention was made that the act was invalid because of its delegations of duties to state officers, the argument was rejected as "too wanting in merit to require further notice." Congress continues to empower state officers to act. Presidents who have objected have done so not on delegation grounds, but rather on the basis of the Appointments Clause.
Delegations to Private Entities.-Statutory delegations to private persons in the form of contingency legislation have passed Court tests. Thus, statutes providing that restrictions upon the production or marketing of agricultural commodities are to become operative only upon a favorable vote by a prescribed majority of those persons affected have been upheld. The rationale of the Court is that such a provision does not involve any delegation of legislative authority, since Congress has merely placed a restriction upon its own regulation by withholding its operation unless it is approved in a referendum.
Statutes that have given private entities actual regulatory power, rather than merely made regulation contingent on their approval, have also been upheld. The Court upheld a statute that delegated to the American Railway Association, a trade group, the authority to determine the standard height of draw bars for freight cars and to certify the figure to the Interstate Commerce Commission, which was required to accept it. The Court simply cited Buttfield v. Stranahan, in which it had sustained a delegation to the Secretary of the Treasury to promulgate minimum standards of quality and purity for imported tea, as a case "completely in point" and resolving the issue without need of further consideration. Similarly, the Court had enforced statutes that gave legal effect to local customs of miners with respect to claims on public lands.
The Court has struck down delegations to private entities, but not solely because they were to private entities. The Schechter case condemned the involvement of private trade groups in the drawing up of binding codes of competition in conjunction with governmental agencies, but the Court's principal objection was to the statute's lack of adequate standards. In Carter v. Carter Coal Co., the Court struck down the Bituminous Coal Conservation Act in part because the statute penalized persons who failed to observe minimum wage and maximum hour regulations drawn up by prescribed majorities of coal producers and coal employees. But the problem for the Court apparently was not so much that the statute delegated to private entities as that it delegated to private entities whose interests were adverse to the interests of those regulated, thereby denying the latter due process. And several later cases have upheld delegations to private entities.
Even though the Court has upheld some private delegations by reference to cases involving delegations to public agencies, some uncertainty remains as to whether identical standards apply. The Schechter Court contrasted the National Industrial Recovery Act's broad and virtually standardless delegation to the President, assisted by private trade groups, with other broad delegations of authority to administrative agencies, characterized by the Court as bodies of experts "required to act upon notice and hearing," and further limited by the requirement that binding orders must be "supported by findings of fact which in turn are sustained by evidence." The absence of these procedural protections, designed to ensure fairness - as well as the possible absence of impartiality identified in Carter Coal- could be cited to support closer scrutiny of private delegations. While the Court has emphasized the importance of administrative procedures in upholding broad delegations to administrative agencies, it has not, since Schechter and Carter Coal, relied on the distinction to strike down a private delegation.
Particular Subjects or Concerns - Closer Scrutiny or Uniform Standard?
The Court has strongly implied that the same principles govern the validity of a delegation regardless of the subject matter of the delegation. "[A] constitutional power implies a power of delegation of authority under it sufficient to effect its purposes." Holding that "the delegation of discretionary authority under Congress' taxing power is subject to no constitutional scrutiny greater than that we have applied to other nondelegation challenges," the Court explained in Skinner v. Mid-America Pipeline Company that there was "nothing in the placement of the Taxing Clause" in Article I, § 8 that would distinguish it, for purposes of delegation, from the other powers enumerated in that clause. Thus, the test in the taxing area is the same as for other areas - whether the statute has provided the administrative agency with standards to guide its actions in such a way that a court can determine whether the congressional policy has been followed.
This does not mean that Congress may delegate its power to determine whether taxes should be imposed. What was upheld in Skinner was delegation of authority to the Secretary of Transportation to collect "pipeline safety user fees" for users of natural gas and hazardous liquid pipelines. "Multiple restrictions" placed on the Secretary's discretion left no doubt that the constitutional requirement of an intelligible standard had been met. Cases involving the power to impose criminal penalties, described below, further illustrate the difference between delegating the underlying power to set basic policy - whether it be the decision to impose taxes or the decision to declare that certain activities are crimes - and the authority to exercise discretion in administering the policy.
Crime and Punishment.-The Court has confessed that its "cases are not entirely clear as to whether more specific guidance is in fact required" for delegations relating to the imposition of criminal sanctions. It is clear, however, that some essence of the power to define crimes and set a range of punishments is not delegable, but must be exercised by Congress. This conclusion derives in part from the time-honored principle that penal statutes are to be strictly construed, and that no one should be "subjected to a penalty unless the words of the statute plainly impose it." Both
Schechter and Panama Refining - the only two cases in which the Court has invalidated delegations - involved broad delegations of power to "make federal crimes of acts that never had been such before." Thus, Congress must provide by statute that violation of the statute's terms - or of valid regulations issued pursuant thereto - shall constitute a crime, and the statute must also specify a permissible range of penalties. Punishment in addition to that authorized in the statute may not be imposed by administrative action.
However, once Congress has exercised its power to declare certain acts criminal, and has set a range of punishment for violations, authority to flesh out the details may be delegated. Congress may provide that violation of valid administrative regulations shall be punished as a crime. For example, the Court has upheld a delegation of authority to classify drugs as "controlled substances," and thereby to trigger imposition of criminal penalties, set by statute, that vary according to the level of a drug's classification by the Attorney General.
Congress may also confer on administrators authority to prescribe criteria for ascertaining an appropriate sentence within the range between the maximum and minimum penalties that are set by statute. The Court upheld Congress's conferral of "significant discretion" on the Sentencing Commission to set binding sentencing guidelines establishing a range of determinate sentences for all categories of federal offenses and defendants. Although the Commission was given significant discretionary authority "to determine the relative severity of federal crimes, . . . assess the relative weight of the offender characteristics listed by Congress, . . . to determine which crimes have been punished too leniently and which too severely, [and] which types of criminals are to be considered similar," Congress also gave the Commission extensive guidance in the Act, and did not confer authority to create new crimes or to enact a federal death penalty for any offense.
Delegation and Individual Liberties.-It has been argued in separate opinions by some Justices that delegations by Congress of power to affect the exercise of "fundamental freedoms" by citizens must be closely scrutinized to require the exercise of a congressional judgment about meaningful standards. The only pronouncement in a majority opinion, however, is that even with regard to the regulation of liberty the standards of the delegation "must be adequate to pass scrutiny by the accepted tests." The standard practice of the Court has been to interpret the delegation narrowly so as to avoid constitutional problems.
Perhaps refining the delegation doctrine, at least in cases where Fifth Amendment due process interests are implicated, the Court held that a government agency charged with the efficient administration of the executive branch could not assert the broader interests that Congress or the President might have in barring lawfully resident aliens from government employment. The agency could assert only those interests Congress charged it with promoting, and if the action could be justified by other interests, the office with responsibility for promoting those interests must take the action.
Source of the Power to Investigate
No provision of the Constitution expressly authorizes either House of Congress to make investigations and exact testimony to the end that it may exercise its legislative functions effectively and advisedly. But such a power had been frequently exercised by the British Parliament and by the Assemblies of the American Colonies prior to the adoption of the Constitution. It was asserted by the House of Representatives as early as 1792 when it appointed a committee to investigate the defeat of General St. Clair and his army by the Indians in the Northwest and empowered it to "call for such persons, papers, and records, as may be necessary to assist their inquiries."
The Court has long since accorded its agreement with Congress that the investigatory power is so essential to the legislative function as to be implied from the general vesting of legislative power in Congress. "We are of the opinion," wrote Justice Van Devanter, for a unanimous Court, "that the power of inquiry-with process to enforce it-is an essential and appropriate auxiliary to the legislative function.... A legislative body cannot legislate wisely or effectively in the absence of information respecting the conditions which the legislation is intended to affect or change; and where the legislative body does not itself possess the requisite information-which not infrequently is true-recourse must be had to others who possess it. Experience has taught that mere requests for such information often are unavailing, and also that information which is volunteered is not always accurate or complete; so some means of compulsion are essential to obtain what is needed. All this was true before and when the Constitution was framed and adopted. In that period the power of inquiry-with enforcing process-was regarded and employed as a necessary and appropriate attribute of the power to legislate-indeed, was treated as inhering in it. Thus there is ample warrant for thinking, as we do, that the constitutional provisions which commit the legislative function to the two houses are intended to include this attribute to the end that the function may be effectively exercised."
And in a 1957 opinion generally hostile to the exercise of the investigatory power in the post-War years, Chief Justice Warren did not question the basic power. "The power of the Congress to conduct investigations is inherent in the legislative process. That power is broad. It encompasses inquiries concerning the administration of existing laws as well as proposed or possibly needed statutes. It includes surveys of defects in our social, economic or political system for the purpose of enabling the Congress to remedy them. It comprehends probes into departments of the Federal Government to expose corruption, inefficiency or waste." Justice Harlan summarized the matter in 1959. "The power of inquiry has been employed by Congress throughout our history, over the whole range of the national interests concerning which Congress might legislate or decide upon due investigation not to legislate; it has similarly been utilized in determining what to appropriate from the national purse, or whether to appropriate. The scope of the power of inquiry, in short, is as penetrating and far-reaching as the potential power to enact and appropriate under the Constitution."
Broad as the power of inquiry is, it is not unlimited. The power of investigation may properly be employed only "in aid of the legislative function." Its outermost boundaries are marked, then, by the outermost boundaries of the power to legislate. In principle, the Court is clear on the limitations, clear "that neither house of Congress possesses a 'general power of making inquiry into the private affairs of the citizen'; that the power actually possessed is limited to inquiries relating to matters of which the particular house 'has jurisdiction' and in respect of which it rightfully may take other action; that if the inquiry relates to 'a matter wherein relief or redress could be had only by a judicial proceeding' it is not within the range of this power, but must be left to the courts, conformably to the constitutional separation of governmental powers; and that for the purpose of determining the essential character of the inquiry recourse must be had to the resolution or order under which it is made."
In practice, much of the litigated dispute has been about the reach of the power to inquire into the activities of private citizens; inquiry into the administration of laws and departmental corruption, while of substantial political consequence, has given rise to fewer judicial precedents.
Investigations of Conduct of Executive Department
For many years the investigating function of Congress was limited to inquiries into the administration of the Executive Department or of instrumentalities of the Government. Until the administration of Andrew Jackson this power was not seriously challenged. During the controversy over renewal of the charter of the Bank of the United States, John Quincy Adams contended that an unlimited inquiry into the operations of the bank would be beyond the power of the House. Four years later the legislative power of investigation was challenged by the President. A committee appointed by the House of Representatives "with power to send for persons and papers, and with instructions to inquire into the condition of the various executive departments, the ability and integrity with which they have been conducted, . . ." called upon the President and the heads of departments for lists of persons appointed without the consent of the Senate and the amounts paid to them. Resentful of this attempt "to invade the just rights of the Executive Departments," the President refused to comply and the majority of the committee acquiesced. Nevertheless, congressional investigations of Executive Departments have continued to the present day. Shortly before the Civil War, contempt proceedings against a witness who refused to testify in an investigation of John Brown's raid upon the arsenal at Harper's Ferry occasioned a thorough consideration by the Senate of the basis of this power. After a protracted debate, which cut sharply across sectional and party lines, the Senate voted overwhelmingly to imprison the contumacious witness. Notwithstanding this firmly established legislative practice, the Supreme Court took a narrow view of the power in the case of Kilbourn v. Thompson. It held that the House of Representatives had overstepped its jurisdiction when it instituted an investigation of losses suffered by the United States as a creditor of Jay Cooke and Company, whose estate was being administered in bankruptcy by a federal court. But nearly half a century later, in McGrain v. Daugherty, it ratified in sweeping terms, the power of Congress to inquire into the administration of an executive department and to sift charges of malfeasance in such administration.
Investigations of Members of Congress
When either House exercises a judicial function, as in judging of elections or determining whether a member should be expelled, it is clearly entitled to compel the attendance of witnesses to disclose the facts upon which its action must be based. Thus, the Court held that since a House had a right to expel a member for any offense which it deemed incompatible with his trust and duty as a member, it was entitled to investigate such conduct and to summon private individuals to give testimony concerning it. The decision in Barry v. United States ex rel. Cunningham sanctioned the exercise of a similar power in investigating a senatorial election.
Investigations in Aid of Legislation
Purpose.-Beginning with the resolution adopted by the House of Representatives in 1827, which vested its Committee on Manufactures "with the power to send for persons and papers with a view to ascertain and report to this House in relation to a revision of the tariff duties on imported goods," the two Houses have asserted the right to collect information from private persons as well as from governmental agencies when necessary to enlighten their judgment on proposed legislation. The first case to review the assertion saw a narrow view of the power taken and the Court held that the purpose of the inquiry was to pry improperly into private affairs without any possibility of legislating on the basis of what might be learned and further that the inquiry overstepped the bounds of legislative jurisdiction and invaded the provinces of the judiciary.
Subsequent cases, however, have given the Congress the benefit of a presumption that its object is legitimate and related to the possible enactment of legislation. Shortly after Kilbourn, the Court declared that "it was certainly not necessary that the resolution should declare in advance what the Senate meditated doing when the investigation was concluded" in order that the inquiry be under a lawful exercise of power. Similarly, in McGrain v. Daugherty, the investigation was presumed to have been undertaken in good faith to aid the Senate in legislating. Then, in Sinclair v. United States, on its facts presenting a close parallel to Kilbourn, the Court affirmed the right of the Senate to carry out investigations of fraudulent leases of government property after suit for recovery had been instituted. The president of the lessee corporation had refused to testify on the ground that the questions related to his private affairs and to matters cognizable only in the courts wherein they were pending, asserting that the inquiry was not actually in aid of legislation. The Senate had prudently directed the investigating committee to ascertain what, if any, legislation might be advisable. Conceding "that Congress is without authority to compel disclosures for the purpose of aiding the prosecution of pending suits," the Court declared that the authority "to require pertinent disclosures in aid of its own constitutional power is not abridged because the information sought to be elicited may also be of use in such suits."
While Sinclair and McGrain involved inquiries into the activities and dealings of private persons, these activities and dealings were in connection with property belonging to the United States Government, so that it could hardly be said that the inquiries concerned the merely personal or private affairs of any individual.
But where the business, the activities and conduct, the behavior of individuals are subject to congressional regulation, there exists the power of inquiry, and in practice the areas of any individual's life immune from inquiry are probably fairly limited. "In the decade following World War II, there appeared a new kind of congressional inquiry unknown in prior periods of American history. Principally this was the result of the various investigations into the threat of subversion of the United States Government, but other subjects of congressional interest also contributed to the changed scene. This new phase of legislative inquiry involved a broad-scale intrusion into the lives and affairs of private citizens." Inasmuch as Congress clearly has power to legislate to protect the Nation and its citizens from subversion, espionage, and sedition, it has power to inquire into the existence of the dangers of domestic or foreign-based subversive activities in many areas of American life-in education, in labor and industry, and other areas. Because its powers to regulate interstate commerce afford Congress the power to regulate corruption in labor-management relations, congressional committees may inquire into the extent of corruption in labor unions. Because of its powers to legislate to protect the civil rights of its citizens, Congress may investigate organizations which allegedly act to deny those civil rights. It is difficult in fact to conceive of areas into which congressional inquiry might not be carried, which is not the same, of course, as saying that the exercise of the power is unlimited.
One limitation on the power of inquiry which has been much discussed in the cases concerns the contention that congressional investigations often have no legislative purpose but rather are aimed at achieving results through "exposure" of disapproved persons and activities: "We have no doubt," wrote Chief Justice Warren, "that there is no congressional power to expose for the sake of exposure." Although some Justices, always in dissent, have attempted to assert limitations in practice based upon this concept, the majority of Justices has adhered to the traditional precept that courts will not inquire into legislators' motives but will look only to the question of power. "So long as Congress acts in pursuance of its constitutional power, the Judiciary lacks authority to intervene on the basis of the motives which spurred the exercise of that power."
In his book, Wilson continued, following the sentence quoted by the Chief Justice: "The argument is not only that discussed and interrogated administration is the only pure and efficient administration, but, more than that, that the only really self-governing people is that people which discusses and interrogates its administration.... It would be hard to conceive of there being too much talk about the practical concerns . . . of government." Congressional Government (1885), 303-304. For contrasting views of the reach of this statement, compare United States v. Rumely, 345 U.S. 41 , 43 (1953), with Russell v. United States, 369 U.S. 749 , 777 -778 (1962) (Justice Douglas dissenting).
Protection of Witnesses; Pertinency and Related Matters.-A witness appearing before a congressional committee is entitled to require of the committee a demonstration of its authority to inquire with regard to his activities and a showing that the questions asked of him are pertinent to the committee's area of inquiry. A congressional committee possesses only those powers delegated to it by its parent body. The enabling resolution that has given it life also contains the grant and limitations of the commit-tee's power. In Watkins v. United States, Chief Justice Warren cautioned that "[b]roadly drafted and loosely worded . . . resolutions can leave tremendous latitude to the discretion of the investigators. The more vague the committee's charter is, the greater becomes the possibility that the committee's specific actions are not in conformity with the will of the parent House of Congress." Speaking directly of the authorizing resolution, which created the House Un- American Activities Committee, the Chief Justice thought it "difficult to imagine a less explicit authorizing resolution." But the far-reaching implications of these remarks were circumscribed by Barenblatt v. United States, in which the Court, "[g]ranting the vagueness of the Rule," noted that Congress had long since put upon it a persuasive gloss of legislative history through practice and interpretation, which, read with the enabling resolution, showed that "the House has clothed the Un-American Activities Committee with pervasive authority to investigate Communist activities in this country." "[W]e must conclude that [the Committee's] authority to conduct the inquiry presently under consideration is unassailable, and that . . . the Rule cannot be said to be constitutionally infirm on the score of vagueness."
Because of the usual precision with which authorizing resolutions have generally been drafted, few controversies have arisen about whether a committee has projected its inquiry into an area not sanctioned by the parent body. But in United States v. Rumely, the Court held that the House of Representatives, in authorizing a select committee to investigate lobbying activities devoted to the promotion or defeat of legislation, did not thereby intend to empower the committee to probe activities of a lobbyist that were unconnected with his representations directly to Congress but rather designed to influence public opinion by distribution of literature. Consequently the committee was without authority to compel the representative of a private organization to disclose the names of all who had purchased such literature in quantity.
Still another example of lack of proper authority is Gojack v. United States, in which the Court reversed a contempt citation because there was no showing that the parent committee had delegated to the subcommittee before whom the witness had appeared the authority to make the inquiry and neither had the full committee specified the area of inquiry.
Watkins v. United States, remains the leading case on pertinency, although it has not the influence on congressional investigations that some hoped and some feared in the wake of its announcement. When questioned by a Subcommittee of the House Un-American Activities Committee, Watkins refused to supply the names of past associates, who, to his knowledge, had terminated their membership in the Communist Party and supported his non-compliance by, inter alia, contending that the questions were unrelated to the work of the Committee. Sustaining the witness, the Court emphasized that inasmuch as a witness by his refusal exposes himself to a criminal prosecution for contempt, he is entitled to be informed of the relation of the question to the subject of the investigation with the same precision as the due process clause requires of statutes defining crimes.
For ascertainment of the subject matter of an investigation, the witness might look, noted the Court, to several sources, including (1) the authorizing resolution, (2) the resolution by which the full committee authorized the subcommittee to proceed, (3) the introductory remarks of the chairman or other members, (4) the nature of the proceedings, (5) the chairman's response to the witness when the witness objects to the line of question on grounds of pertinency. Whether a precise delineation of the subject matter of the investigation in but one of these sources would satisfy the requirements of due process was left unresolved, since the Court ruled that in this case all of them were deficient in providing Watkins with the guidance to which he was entitled. The sources had informed Watkins that the questions were asked in a course of investigation of something that ranged from a narrow inquiry into Communist infiltration into the labor movement to a vague and unlimited inquiry into "subversion and subversive propaganda."
By and large, the subsequent cases demonstrated that Watkins did not represent a determination by the Justices to restrain broadly the course of congressional investigations, though several contempt citations were reversed on narrow holdings. But with regard to pertinency, the implications of Watkins were held in check and, without amending its rules or its authorizing resolution, the Un-American Activities Committee was successful in convincing a majority of the Court that its subsequent investigations were authorized and that the questions asked of recalcitrant witnesses were pertinent to the inquiries.
In Deutch v. United States, 367 U.S. 456 (1961), involving an otherwise cooperative witness who had refused to identify certain persons with whom he had been associated at Cornell in Communist Party activities, the Court agreed that Deutch had refused on grounds of moral scruples to answer the questions and had not challenged them as not pertinent to the inquiry, but the majority ruled that the Government had failed to establish at trial the pertinency of the questions, thus vitiating the conviction. Justices Frankfurter, Clark, Harlan, and Whittaker dissented, arguing that any argument on pertinency had been waived but in any event thinking it had been established. Id. at 472, 475.
In Russell v. United States, 369 U.S. 749 (1962), the Court struck down contempt convictions for insufficiency of the indictments. Indictments, which merely set forth the offense in the words of the contempt statute, the Court asserted, in alleging that the unanswered questions were pertinent to the subject under inquiry but not identifying the subject in detail, are defective because they do not inform defendants what they must be prepared to meet and do not enable courts to decide whether the facts alleged are sufficient to support convictions. Justice Stewart for the Court noted that the indicia of subject matter under inquiry were varied and contradictory, thus necessitating a precise governmental statement of particulars. Justices Harlan and Clark in dissent contended that it was sufficient for the Government to establish pertinency at trial and noted that no objections relating to pertinency had been made at the hearings. Id. at 781, 789-793. Russell was cited in the per curiam reversals in Grumman v. United States, 370 U.S. 288 (1962), and Silber v. United States, 370 U.S. 717 (1962).
Thus, in Barenblatt v. United States, the Court concluded that the history of the Un- American Activities Committee's activities, viewed in conjunction with the Rule establishing it, evinced clear investigatory authority to inquire into Communist infiltration in the field of education, an authority with which the witness had shown familiarity. Additionally, the opening statement of the chairman had pinpointed that subject as the nature of the inquiry that day and the opening witness had testified on the subject and had named Barenblatt as a member of the Communist Party at the University of Michigan. Thus, pertinency and the witness' knowledge of the pertinency of the questions asked him was shown. Similarly, in Wilkinson v. United States, the Court held that when the witness was apprised at the hearing that the Committee was empowered to investigate Communist infiltration of the textile industry in the South, that it was gathering information with a view to ascertaining the manner of administration and need to amend various laws directed at subversive activities, that Congress hitherto had enacted many of its recommendations in this field, and that it was possessed of information about his Party membership, he was notified effectively that a question about that affiliation was relevant to a valid inquiry. A companion case was held to be controlled by Wilkinson, and in both cases the majority rejected the contention that the Committee inquiry was invalid because both Wilkinson and Braden, when they were called, were engaged in organizing activities against the Committee.
Related to the cases discussed in this section are those cases requiring that congressional committees observe strictly their own rules. Thus, in Yellin v. United States, a contempt conviction was reversed because the Committee had failed to observe its rule providing for a closed session if a majority of the Committee believed that a witness' appearance in public session might unjustly injure his reputation. The Court ruled that the Committee had ignored the rule when it subpoenaed the witness for a public hearing and then in failing to consider as a Committee his request for a closed session.
Finally, it should be noted that the Court has blown hot and cold on the issue of a quorum as a prerequisite to a valid contempt citation and that no firm statement of a rule is possible, although it seems probable that ordinarily no quorum is necessary.
Protection of Witnesses; Constitutional Guarantees.- "[T]he Congress, in common with all branches of the Government, must exercise its powers subject to the limitations placed by the Constitution on governmental action, more particularly in the context of this case, the relevant limitations of the Bill of Rights." Just as the Constitution places limitations on Congress' power to legislate, so it limits the power to investigate. In this section, we are concerned with the limitations the Bill of Rights places on the scope and nature of the congressional power to inquire.
The most extensive amount of litigation in this area has involved the privilege against self- incrimination guaranteed against governmental abridgment by the Fifth Amendment. Observance of the privilege by congressional committees has been so uniform that no court has ever held that it must be observed, though the dicta are plentiful. Thus, the cases have explored not the issue of the right to rely on the privilege but rather the manner and extent of its application.