IN RE CHAPMAN, 166 U. S. 661 (1897)

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U.S. Supreme Court

In re Chapman, 166 U.S. 661 (1897)

In re Chapman

No. 11, Original

Argued March 24, 1897

Decided April 19, 1897

166 U.S. 661


The legislation contained in §§ 102 and 104 of the Revised Statutes was originally enacted "more effectually to enforce the attendance of witnesses on the summons of either House of Congress, and to compel them to discover testimony," and, when reasonably construed, is not open to the objection that it conflicts with the provisions of the Constitution.

Statutes should receive a sensible construction such as will effectuate tile legislative intention and avoid, if possible, an unjust or absurd conclusion.

Runkle v. United States, 122 U. S. 543, again questioned, as it has not been approved in subsequent decisions.

Congress possesses the constitutional power to enact a statute to enforce the attendance of witnesses, and to compel them to make disclosure of evidence to enable the respective bodies to discharge their legislative functions.

While Congress cannot divest itself or either of its Houses of the inherent power to punish for contempt, it may provide that contumacy in a witness called to testify in a matter properly under consideration by either House, and deliberately refusing to answer questions pertinent thereto, shall be a misdemeanor against the United States.

The petition alleges as follows: that petitioner is a citizen of the United States, and a resident of the City of New York, in the State of New York, and that he is now restrained of his liberty by the Marshal of the United States for the District of Columbia. That on the first of October, 1894, in the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, holding a criminal term, the grand jury impaneled in said court at said term thereof found an indictment against petitioner, based on section 102 of the Revised Statutes of the United States, to which petitioner filed a demurrer, alleging, among other objections, the unconstitutionality of the acts of Congress on which the indictment was based; that the demurrer was overruled, and petitioner ordered to plead thereto; that the Court of Appeals

Page 166 U. S. 662

for the District of Columbia allowed an appeal from the order overruling the demurrer, and subsequently affirmed it, Chapman v. United States, 5 D.C. App. 122, whereupon petitioner applied to this Court for leave to file a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, which application was denied. In re Chapman, 156 U. S. 211. That thereafter petitioner filed a petition in the Court of Appeals for a writ of prohibition to prevent the trial court from unlawfully assuming jurisdiction to try petitioner on said indictment, which petition was denied, and thereupon petitioner duly prosecuted an appeal and writ of error to this Court from such order denying said petition, which are still pending, this Court having refused to advance the cause, and having also declined to stay the proceedings below. That thereupon, the trial of petitioner under the indictment was proceeded with, and verdict of guilty returned. Motions in arrest of judgment and for new trial were made and overruled, and on February 1, 1896, the trial court entered its judgment and sentence on said verdict, that petitioner be imprisoned in the jail of the District of Columbia for the period of one month from date of arrival, and to pay a fine of $100, from which judgment and sentence petitioner prosecuted an appeal to the Court of Appeals. That court affirmed the judgment and sentence of the trial court, Chapman v. United States, 8 D.C.App. 302, but allowed a writ of error to remove the cause to this Court for review, which writ was dismissed for want of jurisdiction. Chapman v. United States, 164 U. S. 436.

That petitioner was then surrendered in open court by his bondsmen, and committed into the custody of the United States Marshal for the District, who now holds and confines him, and deprives him of his liberty.

The petition further alleged that the act of Congress under which petitioner was prosecuted was unconstitutional, and the imprisonment of petitioner unlawful, on various grounds set forth at length.

Petitioner attached duly certified copies of the record and proceedings, judgment, and sentence, under the aforesaid indictment

Page 166 U. S. 663

against him and prayed that the same be considered in connection with the petition, and also referred to the record in the matter of the application of petitioner for a writ of prohibition.

The indictment averred that the House of Representatives had passed a certain tariff bill, which was pending in the Senate, with a very large number of proposed amendments thereto, during the months thereafter mentioned, and, among them, certain amendments providing for duties on sugar different from the provisions of the bill as it had been sent to the Senate, the adoption or rejection of which by the Senate would materially affect the market value of the stock of the American Sugar-Refining Company; that the Senate adopted a preamble and resolutions raising a special committee, and clothing it with full power of investigation into certain charges made in designated newspapers that members of the Senate were yielding to corrupt influences in the consideration of said legislation; that the investigation was commenced, and, in the course of it, petitioner, being a member of a firm of stockbrokers in the City of New York, dealing in the stock of the American Sugar-Refining Company, appeared as a witness, and was asked whether the firm of which the witness was a member had brought or sold what were known as "sugar stocks" during the month of February, 1894, and after the first day of that month, for or in the interest, directly or indirectly, of any United States senator; had the firm, during the month of March, 1894, bought or sold any stocks or securities known as "sugar stocks" for or in the interest, directly or indirectly, or any United States senator; had the said firm during the month of April done so; had the said firm during the month of May done so; was the said firm at that time carrying any sugar stock for the benefit of or in the interest, directly or indirectly, of any United States senator. But petitioner then and there willfully refused to answer each of the questions so propounded, all of which were pertinent to the inquiry then and there being made by the said committee under the resolutions aforesaid.

Page 166 U. S. 664

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