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Barenblatt v. United States

United States Supreme Court
360 U.S. 109 (1959)


In June of 1954, Lloyd Barenblatt, a former psychology professor at Vassar College, appeared before a subcommittee of the U.S. House Committee on Un-American Activities. Prior to Barenblatt's appearance, an ex-communist named Francis Crowley had testified before the subcommittee that Barenblatt had been a communist from 1947-1950, while he was a graduate student and teaching fellow at the University of Michigan. During Barenblatt's appearance, Barenblatt testified that he had been a graduate student and teaching fellow at the University of Michigan from 1947-1950 and that he knew Crowley. However, he objected generally to the subcommittee's right to question him about his political and religious beliefs and any of his other personal or private affairs. He also objected specifically to five questions and refused to answer them: (1) whether he was currently a member of the Communist Party, (2) whether he had ever been a member of the Communist Party, (3) whether he knew Francis Crowley as a member of the Communist Party, (4) whether he was ever a member of a Communist Party-affiliated club at the University of Michigan, and (5) whether he was a member of the University of Michigan Council of Arts, Sciences, and Professions. Barenblatt was indicted on five counts of contempt of Congress, one count for each question he refused to answer. After a bench trial in federal district court, Barenblatt was convicted and sentenced to six months in prison and a $250 fine. The appellate court affirmed Barenblatt's conviction, and the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari. One of Barenblatt's arguments to the Court was that the questions he refused to answer violated his First Amendment rights.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Harlan, J.)

Dissent (Black, J.)

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