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Law School Case Brief

Barenblatt v. United States - 360 U.S. 109


U.S. Const. amend. I. in some circumstances protects an individual from being compelled to disclose his associational relationships. However, the protections of the U.S. Const. amend. I, unlike a proper claim of the privilege against self-incrimination under U.S. Const. amend. V, do not afford a witness the right to resist inquiry in all circumstances. Where U.S. Const. amend. I rights are asserted to bar governmental interrogation resolution of the issue always involves a balancing by the courts of the competing private and public interests at stake in the particular circumstances shown. 


Defendant sought review of the judgment of the appellate court which affirmed his conviction for contempt of Congress arising from his refusal to answer certain questions put to him by a Subcommittee of the House Committee on Un-American Activities during the course of an inquiry concerning alleged Communist infiltration into the field of education.


Whether the U.S. Constitution protects a witness the right to resist inquiry in all cases?




The court affirmed and rejected the argument that the Committee lacked authority, finding that Congress had the power to investigate in those areas in which it could legislate and that Congress had authorized the Committee’s investigations into Communist activities. Defendant objected to the relevance of the questions posed, but the court found that defendant did not raise this point when questioned, choosing instead to respond to the questions by submitting a prepared statement of objections. The court additionally held that although in some instances the U.S. Constitution protected an individual from compelled disclosure of associational relationships, it did not afford a witness the right to resist inquiry in all cases and that where this constitutional protection was asserted as a bar, it was for the court to balance the competing private and public interests.

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