Musser v. Utah
Decided on Feb. 9, 1948; 333 US 95


I. ISSUES II. CASE SUMMARY III. AMICI CURIAE IV. DECISION V. WIN OR LOSS?
I. ISSUES:

A. Issues Discussed: Judicial review, polygamy

B. Legal Question Presented:

Is Utah's statute's definition of conspiracy so vague and indefinite that it fails adequately to define the offense or to give reasonable standards for determining guilt?

II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

"The appellants sought review by this Court of a decision by the Supreme Court of Utah on the ground that the State convicted them in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution...

Defendants were tried on an information which charged violation of 103-11-1, Utah Code Ann.1943, in that they conspired 'to commit acts injurious to public morals'... It then specified acts which amount briefly to conspiring to counsel, advise and practice polygamous or plural marriage, and it set forth a series of overt acts in furtherance thereof."

Petitioners were convicted, and the Supreme Court of Utah "overruled all constitutional objections and affirmed." The US Supreme court vacated the judgment and remanded for reconsideration.

B. Counsel of Record:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable

C. The Arguments:

ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable
III. AMICI CURIAE:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Mr. Claude T Barnes, of Salt Lake City, Utah, for petitioners. Mr. Calvin L. Rampton, of Salt Lake City, Utah, for respondent.
IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

"The Supreme Court considered that the prosecution was under Paragraph (5) of 103-11-1 which, so far as relevant, defines conspiracy, '[t]o commit any act injurious to the public health, to public morals, or to trade or commerce, or for the perversion or obstruction of justice or the due administration of the laws.'

[The arguments given at a ] rehearing convinces us that questions are inherent in this appeal which were not presented to or considered by the Utah Supreme Court and which involve determination of state law... It is argued that while Paragraph (5) as quoted is admittedly very general, the present charge is sustainable under Paragraph (1) thereof which makes a crime of any conspiracy to commit a crime and that the sweep of Paragraph (5) is or may be so limited by its context or by judicial construction as to supply more definite standards for determining guilt... We believe we should not pass upon the questions raised here until the Supreme Court of Utah has had opportunity to deal with this ultimate issue of federal law and with any state law questions relevant to it.

In order that the controversy may be restored to the control of the Supreme Court of Utah, its present judgment is vacated and the cause is remanded for proceedings not inconsistent herewith."

Justice Vote: 6 Pro vs. 3 Con

  • Jackson, R.Pro (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Black, H. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Reed, S. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Frankfurter, F. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Burton, H. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Vinson, F. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Rutledge, W. Con (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Douglas, W. Con (Joined dissenting opinion)
  • Murphy, F. Con (Joined dissenting opinion)
V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

The ACLU, as amicus curiae, urged reversal of the judgment of the Supreme Court of Utah; the Supreme Court vacated in a 6-3 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent loss.