- Gravel v. United States
Litigants=Gravel v. United States
FullName=Gravel v. United States
Holding=The privileges of the Constitution's
Speech or Debate Clauseenjoyed by members of Congress also extend to Congressional aides, but not to activity outside the legislative process.
"Gravel v. United States", 408 U.S. 606 (1972) was a case regarding the protections offered by the
Speech or Debate Clauseof the United States Constitution. In the case, the Supreme Court of the United Statesheld that the privileges and immunities of the Constitution's Speech or Debate Clause enjoyed by members of Congress also extend to Congressional aides, but not to activity outside the legislative process.
June 15, 1971, Senator Mike Gravel(D- Alaska) received a copy of the Pentagon Papersfrom Ben Bagdikian, an editor at " The Washington Post." [http://www.democracynow.org/2007/7/2/how_the_pentagon_papers_came_to "How the Pentagon Papers Came to be Published by the Beacon Press: A Remarkable Story Told by Whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, Dem Presidential Candidate Mike Gravel and Unitarian Leader Robert West." "Democracy Now." July 2, 2007.] Accessed June 14, 2008.] Over the next several days, Gravel (who was dyslexic) was assisted by his congressional office staff in reading and analyzing the report. Worried his home might be raided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Gravel smuggled the report (which filled two large suitcases) into his congressional office, which was then guarded by disabled Vietnam veterans.
On the evening of
June 29, 1971, Gravel attempted to read the Pentagon Papers into the " Congressional Record.""Preface." In "The Pentagon Papers: The Defense Department History of United States Decisionmaking on Vietnam." Vol. 1. Senator Gravel Edition. Boston: Beacon Press, 1971.] A lack of a quorum, however, prevented the Senate from convening. As chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Public Buildings and Grounds, Gravel convened a meeting of the subcommittee and spent an hour reading part of the Pentagon Papers into the record. Prevented by his dyslexia from continuing, Gravel had the remainder of the Pentagon Papers entered into the record.
Gravel subsequently arranged to have the Pentagon Papers published by a private publisher. The publisher was
Beacon Pressa non-profit book publisherowned by the Unitarian Universalist Association.
grand jurywas subsequently empaneled to investigate possible violations of federal law in the release of the report. Leonard Rodberg, a Gravel aide, was subpoenaed testify about his role in obtaining and arranging for publication of the Pentagon Papers. Senator Gravel intervened and asked a court to quashthe subpoena, contending forcing Rodberg to testify violated the Speech or Debate Clauseof the Constitution. ["Gravel v. United States," 408 U.S. 606, 608-609 (1972).]
A district court refused to grant the motion to quash but did agree to proscribed certain questions."United States v. Doe," 332 F.Supp. 930 (Mass.1971).] The trial court also held that publication of the Pentagon Papers by a private press was not protected by the Speech or Debate Clause. The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's ruling (although it modified the categories of barred questions). ["United States v. Doe," 455 F.2d 753 (CA1 1972).] The United States appealed the barring of questions, and Senator Gravel appealed the ruling regarding publication. The
United States Supreme Courtgranted certiorari. ["Gravel v. United States," 405 U.S. 916 (1972).]
In a 5-to-4 ruling, the Supreme Court held that the privileges of the Constitution's Speech or Debate Clause enjoyed by members of Congress also extend to Congressional aides. Rejecting the reasoning of the court of appeals and substituting its own, "...the privilege available to the aide is confined to those services that would be immune legislative conduct if performed by the Senator himself," the Court declared. ["Gravel v. United States," 408 U.S. 606, 622, 627.] However, the Court refused to protect congressional aides from prosecution for criminal conduct, or from testifying at trials or grand jury proceedings involving third-party crimes. ["Gravel v. United States," 408 U.S. 606, 622.] The Supreme Court also threw out the lower courts' order permitting some questions and barring others, concluding that if the testimony is privileged then the privilege is absolute. ["Gravel v. United States," 408 U.S. 606, 627-629.]
However, the Court upheld the district court's ruling regarding private publication. "
[Private]publication by Senator Gravel through the cooperation of Beacon Press was in no way essential to the deliberations of the Senate; nor does questioning as to private publication threaten the integrity or independence of the Senate by impermissibly exposing its deliberations to executive influence." ["Gravel v. United States," 408 U.S. 606, 625.]
Potter Stewartdissented in part, concluding that the Court had too narrowly construed the protections granted by the Speech or Debate Clause. Justice Stewart would have extended the protections of the clause to cover testify before a grand jury about preparing for legislative acts as well. ["Gravel v. United States," 408 U.S. 606, 629ff.]
In his dissent, Associate Justice
William O. Douglasargued that the private publication was an adjunct of speech or debate function of Senator Gravel, and was therefore protected speech. ["Gravel v. United States," 408 U.S. 606, 633ff.]
In his dissent, Associate Justice
William J. Brennan, Jr.disagreed with the majority's narrow construction of the Speech or Debate Clause, and defined a much broader conception of the right. Brennan was joined by Justices Douglas and Marshall. ["Gravel v. United States," 408 U.S. 606, 633ff.]
The case is considered a landmark for not only reaffirming the constitutional protections offered by the Speech or Debate Clause, but for narrowing it as well. ["Evidentiary Implications of the Speech or Debate Clause." "Yale Law Journal." 88:6 (May, 1979); "The Speech or Debate Clause Protection of Congressional Aides." "Yale Law Journal." 91:5 (April 1982); Epstein, Lee and Walker, Thomas G. "Constitutional Law for a Changing America: Institutional Powers and Constraints." 5th ed. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2004. ISBN 1568028229]
List of United States Supreme Court cases, volume 408
* [http://laws.findlaw.com/us/408/606.html Full text of the decision courtesy of Findlaw.com]
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