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Thesis (M.A.)—University of Nebraska—Lincoln. Department of Political Science.


Copyright 1949, the author. Used by permission.


The purpose of this study was to examine the origin and scope of the power of the U.S. Congress to punish for contempt (willful disobedience to, or open disrespect of rules, orders, process, or the dignity and authority of the legislative body). The study first focuses on the English Parliament, where the power to punish for contempt was developed long before the U.S. This is followed by a presentation of leading cases of contempt as they occurred in the English Parliament, in the American colonial assemblies, and in Congress. Finally, cases of judicial review of the power of Congress to punish for contempt will be discussed.

Overall it is concluded that the best way to improve the present situation is to establish a code of fair procedures which would govern the conduct of such investigating committee which carries out the order of Congress. The code would guarantee witnesses a reasonable opportunity to submit prepared statement, to have counsel, and to confront other witnesses telling contrary stories. It would also provide for a restrained use of warrants and of the contempt power. It would forbid testimony in secret sessions and release of statements of publication of documents which do not carry the approval of a majority of the committee. This code might first be discussed and prepared by a panel of experts who would lay influence on both Congress and public opinion in order to improve their discipline or moral. If such a pattern of conduct were endorsed by public opinion, it would be as effective as legislative enactments in bringing about fair play and it would be a moral force guiding Congress when exercising its contempt power.

Advisor: G. Krebs.