Yellin v. US
Decided on June 17; 1963 374 US 109


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

A. Issues Discussed: Governmental Authority (Regulation)

B. Legal Question Presented:

Did the House Committee on Un-American Activities fail to comply with its rules, and did such a failure excuse the petitioner's refusal to answer the Committee's questions?
II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

Petitioner Edward Yellin was indicted in the Northern District of Indiana on five counts of willfully refusing to answer questions put to him by a Subcommittee of the House Committee on Un-American Activities at a public hearing. Yellin refused to answer the questions because the Committee had not considered his petition for a closed executive session. He was convicted of contempt of Congress on four counts. He was sentenced to four years of imprisonment and fined $250. The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed.
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)
Victor Rabinowitz reargued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs was Leonard B. Boudin.

Osmond K. Fraenkel filed a brief for the American Civil Liberties Union, as amicus curiae, urging reversal.
Solicitor General Cox reargued the cause for the United States. With him on the briefs were Assistant Attorney General Yeagley, Bruce J. Terris, Kevin T. Maroney and Lee B. Anderson.

IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

"The rule is quite explicit in requiring that injury to a witness' reputation be considered, along with danger to the national security and injury to the reputation of third parties, in deciding whether to hold an executive session. At the threshold we are met with the argument that Rule IV was written to provide guidance for the Committee alone and that it was not designed to confer upon witnesses the right to request an executive session and the right to have the Committee act, either upon that request or on its own, according to the standards set forth in the rule. It seems clear, from the structure of the Committee's rules and from the Committee's practice, that such is not the case...

Yellin should be permitted the same opportunity for judicial review when he discovers at trial that his rights have been violated. This is especially so when the Committee's practice leads witnesses to misplaced reliance upon its rules. When reading a copy of the Committee's rules, which must be distributed to every witness under Rule XVII, the witness' reasonable expectation is that the Committee actually does what it purports to do, adhere to its own rules. To foreclose a defense based upon those rules, simply because the witness was deceived by the Committee's appearance of regularity, is not fair. [374 U.S. 109, 124] The Committee prepared the groundwork for prosecution in Yellin's case meticulously. It is not too exacting to require that the Committee be equally meticulous in obeying its own rules."

The US Supreme Court reversed the Seventh Circuit's decision and held that the petitioner's conviction for refusal to tesitfy in public cannot stand because the committee violated its own Rule IV by failing to give consideration to the question whether interrogation in public would injure petitioner's reputation and by failing to act on his request that he be interrogated in executive session.
Justice Vote: 5 Pro vs. 4 Con
  • Warren, E. Pro (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Brennan, W. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Douglas, W. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Black, H. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Goldberg, A. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • White, B. Con (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Clark, T. Con (Joined dissenting opinion)
  • Harlan, J. Con (Joined dissenting opinion)
  • Stewart, P. Con (Joined dissenting opinion)
V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

The ACLU, as amicus, urged reversal; the Supreme Court reversed the conviction in a 5-4 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.