Craig v. Hecht, 263 U.S. 255 (1923)

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Author: Justice Holmes

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Craig v. Hecht, 263 U.S. 255 (1923)

MR. JUSTICE HOLMES, dissenting.

I think that the petitioner’s resort to habeas corpus in this case was right, and was the only proper course. Very possibly some of the cases confuse the principles that govern jurisdiction with those that govern merits. See Fauntleroy v. Lum, 210 U.S. 230, 235. But I think that this should be treated as a question of jurisdiction. The statute puts it as a matter of power:

The said courts shall have power . . . to punish . . . contempts of their authority: Provided, that such power to punish contempts shall not be construed to extend to any cases except the misbehavior of any person in their presence, or so near thereto as to obstruct the administration of justice,

etc. Judicial Code, § 268. I think that these words should be taken literally, and that we do not need a better illustration of the need to treat them as jurisdictional and to confine the jurisdiction very narrowly than the present case. For we must not confound the power to punish this kind of contempts with the power to overcome and punish disobedience to or defiance of the orders of a court, although unfortunately both are called by the same name. That, of course, a court may and should use as fully as needed, but this, especially if it is to be extended by decisions to which I cannot agree, makes a man judge in matters in which he is likely to have keen personal interest and feeling, although neither self-protection nor the duty of going on with the work requires him to take such a part. It seems to me that the statute on its face plainly limits the jurisdiction of the judge in this class of cases to those where his personal action is necessary in a strict sense in order to enable him to go on with his work. But wherever the line may be drawn, it is a jurisdictional line. "The jurisdiction attaches only when the suit presents a substantial claim under an act of Congress." Blumenstock Brothers Advertising Agency v. Curtis Publishing Co., 252 U.S. 436, 441.

I think that the sentence from which the petitioner seeks relief was more than an abuse of power. I think it should be held wholly void. I think, in the first place, that there was no matter pending before the Court in the sense that it must be to make this kind of contempt possible. It is not enough that somebody may hereafter move to have something done. There was nothing then awaiting decision when the petitioner’s letter was published. The English cases show that the law of England at least is in accord with my view. Metzler v. Gounod, 30 Law Times R., N.S., 164. But if there had been, and giving the most unfavorable interpretation to all that the letter says, I do not see how to misstate past matters of fact of the sort charged here could be said to obstruct the administration of justice. Suppose the petitioner falsely and unjustly charged the judge with having excluded him from knowledge of the facts -- how can it be pretended that the charge obstructed the administration of justice when the judge seemingly was willing to condone it if the petitioner would retract? Unless a judge while sitting can lay hold of any one who ventures to publish anything that tends to make him unpopular or to belittle him, I cannot see what power Judge Mayer had to touch Mr. Craig. Even if feeling was tense, there is no such thing as what Keating, J., in Metzler v. Gounod, calls contingent contempt. A man cannot be summarily laid by the heels because his words may make public feeling more unfavorable in case the judge should be asked to act at some later date, any more than he can for exciting public feeling against a judge for what he already has done.

MR. JUSTICE BRANDEIS concurs in this opinion.

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Chicago: Holmes, "Holmes, J., Dissenting," Craig v. Hecht, 263 U.S. 255 (1923) in 263 U.S. 255 263 U.S. 281–Joint_263 U.S. 282. Original Sources, accessed September 20, 2018, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CNLHX7XWNNBBTV8.

MLA: Holmes. "Holmes, J., Dissenting." Craig v. Hecht, 263 U.S. 255 (1923), in 263 U.S. 255, pp. 263 U.S. 281–Joint_263 U.S. 282. Original Sources. 20 Sep. 2018. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CNLHX7XWNNBBTV8.

Harvard: Holmes, 'Holmes, J., Dissenting' in Craig v. Hecht, 263 U.S. 255 (1923). cited in 1923, 263 U.S. 255, pp.263 U.S. 281–Joint_263 U.S. 282. Original Sources, retrieved 20 September 2018, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CNLHX7XWNNBBTV8.