YELLIN V. UNITED STATES, 374 U. S. 109 (1963)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Yellin v. United States, 374 U.S. 109 (1963)

Yellin v. United States

No. 35

Argued April 18-19, 1962

Restored to the calendar for reargument June 25, 1962

Reargued December 6, 1962

Decided June 17, 1963

374 U.S. 109


Petitioner was summoned to appear as a witness before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, which was investigating infiltration of Communists into the steel industry. Petitioner's counsel telegraphed the General Counsel of the Committee, requesting that petitioner be permitted to testify in an executive session, because that would avoid "exposing witnesses to publicity." Without authorization, the Committee's Staff Director replied by telegram that the request was denied. At the beginning of the hearing several days later, petitioner's counsel tried to have these telegrams read into the record, but this was denied, and neither petitioner nor his counsel was permitted to discuss the subject. Without specifying this as the reason, petitioner refused to answer questions asked him by the Committee, and he was indicted for violating 2 U.S.C. § 192. At the trial, petitioner contended that the Committee had violated its Rule IV, which provides that witnesses shall be interrogated in executive session if a majority of the Committee believes that his public interrogation might "endanger national security or unjustly injure his reputation, or the reputation of other individuals," but petitioner was convicted and sentenced to a fine and imprisonment.

Held: On the record in this case, it appears that 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, and petitioner's conviction for refusal to testify in public cannot stand. Pp. 374 U. S. 110-124.

(a) The Committee's Rule IV is quite explicit in requiring that injury to a witness' reputation be considered, along with danger to national security and injury to the reputation of a third party, in deciding whether to hold an executive session. Pp. 374 U. S. 114-115.

(b) Rule IV conferred upon witnesses the right to request an executive session and the right to have the Committee act upon such a request, according to the standards set forth in the Rule. Pp. 374 U. S. 115-117.

Page 374 U. S. 110

(c) That a witness may be questioned in public, even after an executive session has been held, does not mean that the Committee is freed from considering possible injury to his reputation. Pp. 374 U. S. 117-118.

(d) It appears from the record that the Committee violated its own Rule in this case by deciding to interrogate petitioner publicly without giving any consideration to the question whether to do so would injure petitioner's reputation. Pp. 374 U. S. 118-119.

(e) The Committee also violated its own Rule by failing to act upon petitioner's express request for an executive session, even though that request was directed to the Committee's General Counsel, instead of the Chairman. Pp. 374 U. S. 119-121.

(f) The only remedy petitioner had for this denial of his rights under the Rule was his refusal to testify. Pp. 374 U. S. 121-122.

(g) Petitioner's rights under Rule IV were not forfeited by his failure to make clear at the time he was questioned that his refusal to testify was based upon the Committee's departure from Rule IV. Pp. 374 U. S. 122-124.

287 F.2d 292 reversed.

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