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Tenney v. Brandhove

Supreme Court of the United States

March 1, 1951, Argued ; May 21, 1951, Decided

No. 338


 [*369]  [**784]  [***1023]    MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

William Brandhove brought this action in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, alleging that he had been deprived of rights guaranteed by the Federal Constitution. The defendants are Jack B. Tenney and other members of a committee of the California Legislature, the Senate Fact-Finding Committee on Un-American Activities, colloquially known as the Tenney Committee. Also named as defendants are the Committee and Elmer E. Robinson, Mayor of San Francisco.

The action is based on §§ 43 and 47 (3) of Title 8 of the United States Code. These sections derive from one of the statutes, passed in 1871, aimed at enforcing the  [****5]  Fourteenth Amendment. Act of April 20, 1871, c. 22, §§ 1, 2, 17 Stat. 13. Section 43 provides:

] "Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the  [**785]  jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress." R. S. § 1979, 8 U. S. C. § 43.

Section 47 (3) provides a civil remedy against "two or more persons" who may conspire to deprive another of constitutional rights, as therein defined. 1

 [****6]  [*370]  [***1024]    Reduced to its legal essentials, the complaint shows these facts. The Tenney Committee was constituted by a resolution of the California Senate on June 20, 1947. On January 28, 1949, Brandhove circulated a petition among members of the State Legislature. He alleges that it was circulated in order to persuade the Legislature not to appropriate further funds for the Committee. The petition charged that the Committee had used Brandhove as a tool in order "to smear Congressman Franck R. Havenner as a 'Red' when he was a candidate for Mayor of San Francisco in 1947; and that the Republican machine in San Francisco and the campaign management of Elmer E. Robinson, Franck Havenner's opponent, conspired with the Tenney Committee to this end." In view of the conflict between this petition and evidence previously given by Brandhove, the Committee asked local prosecuting officials to institute criminal proceedings against him. The Committee also summoned Brandhove to appear before them at a hearing held on January 29. Testimony was there taken from the Mayor of San Francisco, allegedly a member of the conspiracy. The plaintiff appeared with counsel, but refused to give testimony.  [****7]   [*371]  For this, he was prosecuted for contempt in the State courts. Upon the jury's failure to return a verdict this prosecution was dropped. After Brandhove refused to testify, the Chairman quoted testimony given by Brandhove at prior hearings. The Chairman also read into the record a statement concerning an alleged criminal record of Brandhove, a newspaper article denying the truth of his charges, and a denial by the Committee's counsel -- who was absent -- that Brandhove's charges were true.

Brandhove alleges that the January 29 hearing "was not held for a legislative purpose," but was designed "to intimidate and silence plaintiff and deter and prevent him from effectively exercising his constitutional rights of free speech and to petition the Legislature for redress of grievances, and also to deprive him of the equal protection of the laws, due process of law, and of the enjoyment of equal privileges and immunities as a citizen of the United States under the law, and so did intimidate, silence, deter, and prevent and deprive plaintiff." Damages of $ 10,000 were asked "for legal counsel, traveling, hotel accommodations, and other matters pertaining and necessary to his  [****8]  defense" in the contempt proceeding  [**786]  arising out of the Committee hearings. The plaintiff also asked for punitive damages.

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341 U.S. 367 *; 71 S. Ct. 783 **; 95 L. Ed. 1019 ***; 1951 U.S. LEXIS 1836 ****



In an action brought by respondent against petitioners under 8 U. S. C. §§ 43 and 47 (3), the District Court dismissed the complaint. The Court of Appeals reversed. 183 F.2d 121. This Court granted certiorari. 340 U.S. 903. Reversed, p. 379.

Disposition:  183 F.2d 121, reversed.


rights, immunity, legislative committee, deprive, proceedings, privileges, courts

Civil Procedure, Preliminary Considerations, Equity, General Overview, Civil Rights Law, Protection of Rights, Section 1983 Actions, Scope, Constitutional Law, Equal Protection, Fundamental Freedoms, Freedom of Speech, Political Speech, Criminal Law & Procedure, Inchoate Crimes, Conspiracy, Governments, Federal Government, US Congress, Congressional Duties & Powers, Speech & Debate Immunity, Bill of Rights, Torts, Defenses, Privileges, Absolute Privileges