Shaughnessy v. United States ex rel. Mezei/Dissent Black

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Dissenting Opinion

United States Supreme Court

345 U.S. 206

Shaughnessy  v.  United States ex rel. Mezei

 Argued: Jan. 7 and 8, 1953. --- Decided: March 16, 1953

Mr. Justice BLACK, with whom Mr. Justice DOUGLAS concurs, dissenting.

Mezei came to this country in 1923 and lived as a resident alien in Buffalo, New York, for twenty-five years. He made a trip to Europe in 1948 and was stopped at our shore on his return in 1950. Without charge of or conviction for any crime, he was for two years held a prisoner on Ellis Island by order of the Attorney General. Mezei sought habeas corpus in the District Court. He wanted to go to his wife and home in Buffalo. The Attorney General defended the imprisonment by alleging that it would be dangerous to the Nation's security to let Mezei go home even temporarily on bail. Asked for proof of this, the Attorney General answered the judge that all his information was 'of a confidential nature' so much so that telling any of it or even telling the names of any of his secret informers would jeopardize the safety of the Nation. Finding that Mezei's life as a resident alien in Buffalo had been 'unexceptional' and that no facts had been proven to justify his continued imprisonment, the District Court granted bail. The Court of Appeals approved. Now this Court orders Mezei to leave his home and go back to his island prison to stay indefinitely, maybe for life.

Mr. Justice JACKSON forcefully points out the danger in the Court's holding that Mezei's liberty is completely at the mercy of the unreviewable discretion of the Attorney General. I join Mr. Justice JACKSON in the belief that Mezei's continued imprisonment without a hearing violates due process of law.

No society is free where government makes one person's liberty depend upon the arbitrary will of another. Dictatorships have done this since time immemorial. They do now. Russian laws of 1934 authorized the People's Commissariat to imprison, banish and exile Russian citizens as well as 'foreign subjects who are socially dangerous.' [*] Hitler's secret police were given like powers. German courts were forbidden to make any inquiry whatever as to the information on which the police acted. Our Bill of Rights was written to prevent such oppressive practices. Under it this Nation has fostered and protected individual freedom. The Founders abhorred arbitrary one-man imprisonments. Their belief was-our constitutional principles are that no person of any faith, rich or poor, high or low, native or foreigner, white or colored, can have his life, liberty or property taken 'without due process of law.' This means to me that neither the federal police nor federal prosecutors nor any other governmental official, whatever his title, can put or keep people in prison without accountability to courts of justice. It means that individual liberty is too highly prized in this country to allow executive officials to imprison and hold people on the basis of information kept secret from courts. It means that Mezei should not be deprived of his liberty indefinitely except as the result of a fair open court hearing in which evidence is appraised by the court, not by the prosecutor.

Mr. Justice JACKSON, whom Mr. Justice FRANKFURTER joins, dissenting.

Fortunately it still is startling, in this country, to find a person held indefinitely in executive custody without accusation of crime or judicial trial. Executive imprisonment has been considered oppressive and lawless since John, at Runnymede, pledged that no free man should be imprisoned, dispossessed, outlawed, or exiled save by the judgment of his peers or by the law of the land. The judges of England developed the writ of habeas corpus largely to preserve these immunities from executive restraint. Under the best tradition of Anglo-American law, courts will not deny hearing to an unconvicted prisoner just because he is an alien whose keep, in legal theory, is just outside our gates. Lord Mansfield, in the celebrated case holding that slavery was unknown to the common law of England, ran his writ of habeas corpus in favor of an alien, an African Negro slave, and against the master of a ship at anchor in the Thames. [1]

What is our case? [2] In contemplation of law, I agree, it is that of an alien who asks admission to the country. Concretely, however, it is that of a lawful and law-abiding inhabitant of our country for a quarter of a century, long ago admitted for permanent residence, who seeks to return home. After a foreign visit to his aged and ailing mother that was prolonged by disturbed conditions of Eastern Europe, he obtained a visa for admission issued by our consul and returned to New York. There the Attorney General refused to honor his documents and turned him back as a menace to this Nation's security. This man, who seems to have led a life of unrelieved insignificance, must have been astonished to find himself suddenly putting the Government of the United States in such fear that it was afraid to tell him why it was afraid of him. He was shipped and reshipped to France, which twice refused him landing. Great Britain declined, and no other European country has been found willing to open its doors to him. Twelve countries of the American Hemisphere refused his applications. Since we proclaimed him a Samson who might pull down the pillars of our temple, we should not be surprised if peoples less prosperous, less strongly established and less stable feared to take him off our timorous hands. With something of a record as an unwanted man, neither his efforts nor those of the United States Government any longer promise to find him an abiding place. For nearly two years he was held in custody of the immigration authorities of the United States at Ellis Island, and if the Government has its way he seems likely to be detained indefinitely, perhaps for life, for a cause known only to the Attorney General.

Is respondent deprived of liberty? The Government answers that he was 'transferred to Ellis Island on August 1, 1950 for safekeeping,' and 'is not being detained in the usual sense, but is in custody solely to prevent him from gaining entry into the United States in violation of law. He is free to depart from the United States to any country of his choice.' Government counsel ingeniously argued that Ellis Island is his 'refuge' whence he is free to take leave in any direction except west. That might mean freedom, if only he were an amphibian! Realistically, this man is incarcerated by a combination of forces which keeps him as effectually as a prison, the dominant and proximate of these forces being the United States immigration authority. It overworks legal fiction to say that one is free in law when by the commonest of common sense he is bound. Despite the impeccable legal logic of the Government's argument on this point, it leads to an artificial and unreal conclusion. [3] We must regard this alien as deprived of liberty, and the question is whether the deprivation is a denial of due process of law.

The Government on this point argues that 'no alien has any constitutional right to entry into the United States'; that 'the alien has only such rights as Congress sees fit to grant in exclusion proceedings'; that 'the so-called detention is still merely a continuation of the exclusion which is specifically authorized by Congress'; that since 'the restraint is not incidental to an order (of exclusion) but is itself the effectuation of the exclusion order, there is no limit to its continuance' other than statutory, which means no limit at all. The Government all but adopts the words of one of the officials responsible for the administration of this Act who testified before a congressional committee as to an alien applicant, that 'He has no rights.' [4]

The interpretations of the Fifth Amendment's command that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, come about to this: reasonable general legislation reasonably applied to the individual. The question is whether the Government's detention of respondent is compatible with these tests of substance and procedure.

II. Substantive Due Process.

Substantively, due process of law renders what is due to a strong state as well as to a free individual. It tolerates all reasonable measures to insure the national safety, and it leaves a large, at times a potentially dangerous, latitude for executive judgment as to policies and means. [5]

After all, the pillars which support our liberties are the three branches of government, and the burden could not be carried by our own power alone. Substantive due process will always pay a high degree of deference to congressional and executive judgment, especially when they concur, as to what is reasonable policy under conditions of particular times and circumstances. Close to the maximum of respect is due from the judiciary to the political departments in policies affecting security and alien exclusion. Harisiades v. Shaughnessy, 342 U.S. 580, 72 S.Ct. 512, 96 L.Ed. 586.

Due process does not invest any alien with a right to enter the United States, nor confer on those admitted the right to remain against the national will. Nothing in the Constitution requires admission or sufferance of aliens hostile to our scheme of government.

Nor do I doubt that due process of law will tolerate some impounding of an alien where it is deemed essential to the safety of the state. Even the resident, friendly alien may be subject to executive detention without bail, for a reasonable period, pending consummation of deportation arrangements. Carlson v. Landon, 342 U.S. 524, 72 S.Ct. 525, 96 L.Ed. 547. The alien enemy may be confined or his property seized and administered because hostility is assumed from his continued allegiance to a hostile state. Cf. Ludecke v. Watkins, 335 U.S. 160, 68 S.Ct. 1429, 92 L.Ed. 1881; Zittman v. McGrath, 341 U.S. 446, 71 S.Ct. 832, 95 L.Ed. 1096, and 341 U.S. 471, 71 S.Ct. 846, 95 L.Ed. 1112.

If due process will permit confinement of resident aliens friendly in fact because of imputed hostility, I should suppose one personally at war with our institutions might be confined, even though his state is not at war with us. In both cases, the underlying consideration is the power of our system of government to defend itself, and changing strategy of attack by infiltration may be met with changed tactics of defense.

Nor do I think the concept of due process so paralyzing that it forbids all detention of an alien as a preventive measure against threatened dangers and makes confinement lawful only after the injuries have been suffered. In some circumstances, even the citizen in default of bail has long been subject to federal imprisonment for security of the peace and good behavior. [6] While it is usually applied for express verbal threats, no reason is known to me why the power is not the same in the case of threats inferred by proper procedures from circumstances. The British, with whom due process is a habit, if not a written constitutional dictum, permit a court in a limited class of cases to pass a 'sentence of preventive detention' if satisfied that it is expedient for the protection of the public. [7]

I conclude that detention of an alien would not be inconsistent with substantive due process, provided-and this is where my dissent begins-he is accorded procedural due process of law.

III. Procedural Due Process.

Procedural fairness, if not all that originally was meant by due process of law, is at least what it most uncompromisingly requires. Procedural due process is more elemental and less flexible than substantive due process. It yields less to the times, varies less with conditions, and defers much less to legislative judgment. Insofar as it is technical law, it must be a specialized responsibility within the competence of the judiciary on which they do not bend before political branches of the Government, as they should on matters of policy which compromise substantive law.

If it be conceded that in some way this alien could be confined, does it matter what the procedure is? Only the untaught layman or the charlatan lawyer can answer that procedures matter not. Procedural fairness and regularity are of the indispensable essence of liberty. Severe substantive laws can be endured if they are fairly and impartially applied. Indeed, if put to the choice, one might well prefer to live under Soviet substantive law applied in good faith by our common-law procedures than under our substantive law enforced by Soviet procedural practices. Let it not be overlooked that due process of law is not for the sole benefit of an accused. It is the best insurance for the Government itself against those blunders which leave lasting stains on a system of justice but which are bound to occur on ex parte consideration. Cf. United States ex rel. Knauff v. Shaughnessy, 338 U.S. 537, 70 S.Ct. 309, 94 L.Ed. 317, which was a near miss, saved by further administrative and congressional hearings from perpetrating an injustice. See Knauff, The Ellen Knauff Story (New York) 1952.

Our law may, and rightly does, place more restrictions on the alien than on the citizen. But basic fairness in hearing procedures does not vary with the status of the accused. If the procedures used to judge this alien are fair and just, no good reason can be given why they shoud not be extended to simplify the condemnation of citizens. If they would be unfair to citizens, we cannot defend the fairness of them when applied to the more helpless and handicapped alien. This is at the root of our holdings that the resident alien must be given a fair hearing to test an official claim that he is one of a deportable class. Wong Yang Sung v. McGrath, 339 U.S. 33, 70 S.Ct. 445, 94 L.Ed. 616.

The most scrupulous observance of due process, including the right to know a charge, to be confronted with the accuser, to cross-examine informers and to produce evidence in one's behalf, is especially necessary where the occasion of detention is fear of future misconduct, rather than crimes committed. Both the old proceeding by which one may be bound to keep the peace and the newer British 'preventive detention' are safeguarded with full rights to judicial hearings for the accused. On the contrary, the Nazi regime in Germany installed a system of 'protective custody' by which the arrested could claim no judicial or other hearing process, [8] and as a result the concentration camps were populated with victims of summary executive detention for secret reasons. That is what renders Communist justice such a travesty. There are other differences, to be sure, between authoritarian procedure and common law, but differences in the process of administration make all the difference between a reign of terror and one of law. Quite unconsciously, I am sure, the Government's theory of custody for 'safekeeping' without disclosure to the victim of charges, evidence, informers or reasons, even in an administrative proceeding, has unmistakable overtones of the 'protective custody' of the Nazis more than of any detaining procedure known to the common law. Such a practice, once established with the best of intentions, will drift into oppression of the disadvantaged in this country as surely as it has elsewhere. That these apprehensive surmises are not 'such stuff as dreams are made on' appears from testimony of a top immigration official concerning an applicant that 'He has no rights.'

Because the respondent has no right of entry, does it follow that he has no rights at all? Does the power to exclude mean that exclusion may be continued or effectuated by any means which happen to seem appropriate to the authorities? It would effectuate his exclusion to eject him bodily into the sea or to set him adrift in a rowboat. Would not such measures be condemned judicially as a deprivation of life without due process of law? Suppose the authorities decide to disable an alien from entry by confiscating his valuables and money. Would we not hold this a taking of property without due process of law? Here we have a case that lies between the taking of life and the taking of property; it is the taking of liberty. It seems to me that this, occurring within the United States or its territorial waters, may be done only by proceedings which meet the test of due process of law.

Exclusion of an alien without judicial hearing, of course, does not deny due process when it can be accomplished merely by turning him back on land or returning him by sea. But when indefinite confinement becomes the means of enforcing exclusion, it seems to me that due process requires that the alien be informed of its grounds and have a fair chance to overcome them. This is the more due him when he is entrapped into leaving the other shore by reliance on a visa which the Attorney General refuses to honor.

It is evident that confinement of respondent no longer can be justified as a step in the process of turning him back to the country whence he came. Confinement is no longer ancillary to exclusion; it can now be justified only as the alternative to normal exclusion. It is an end in itself.

The Communist conspiratorial technique of infiltration poses a problem which sorely tempts the Government to resort to confinement of suspects on secret information secretly judged. I have not been one to discount the Communist evil. But my apprehensions about the security of our form of government are about equally aroused by those who refuse to recognize the dangers of Communism and those who will not see danger in anything else.

Congress has ample power to determine whom we will admit to our shores and by what means it will effectuate its exclusion policy. The only limitation is that it may not do so by authorizing United States officers to take without due process of law the life, the liberty or the property of an alien who has come within our jurisdiction; and that means he must meet a fair hearing with fair notice of the charges. [9]

It is inconceivable to me that this measure of simple justice and fair dealing would menace the security of this country. No one can make me believe that we are that far gone.


^1  Somersett's Case, 20 How.St.Tr. 1; 2 Campbell, Lives of the Chief Justices, 418; Fiddes, Lord Mansfield and The Sommersett Case, 50 L.Q.Rev. 499.

^2  I recite facts alleged in the petition for the writ. Since the Government declined to try the case on the merits, I think we must consider the question on well-pleaded allegations of the petition. Petitioner might fail to make good on a hearing; the question is, must he fail without one?

^3  Mr. Justice Holmes, for the Court, said in Chin Yow v. United States, 208 U.S. 8, 12-13, 28 S.Ct. 201, 202, 52 L.Ed. 369:

'If we regard the petitioner, as in Ju Toy's Case it was said that he should be regarded, as if he had been stopped and kept at the limit of our jurisdiction (198 U.S. (253) 263, 25 S.Ct. 644, 49 L.Ed. (1040) 1044), still it would be difficult to say that he was not imprisoned, theoretically as well as practically, when to turn him back meant that he must get into a vessel against his wish and be carried to China. The case would not be that of a person simply prevented from going in one direction that he desired and had a right to take, all others being left open to him, a case in which the judges were not unanimous in Bird v. Jones, 7 Q.B. 742. But we need not speculate upon niceties. It is true that the petitioner gains no additional right of entrance by being allowed to pass the frontier in custody for the determination of his case. But, on the question whether he is wrongly imprisoned, we must look at the actual facts. De facto he is locked up until carried out of the country against his will.'

^4  Testimony of Almanza Tripp, an immigration service official, before the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration on February 15, 1950, included the following:

'* * * Now, when we have a case of that sort, where central registry contains something derogatory of that nature, I do not believe we should make a finding of admissibility until it has been disproved. But the evidence that they had in central registry would not be sufficient for our Service to exclude by the normal board of special inquiry proceedings, because those proceedings must be conducted in a manner in which they could not be subject to attack in a court of the United States.

'You may say that it is unfair to the applicant not to give him that protection, but you must remember that the applicant is an applicant. He has no rights * * *.' (Hearings before the Subcommittee on Amendments to the Displaced Persons Act, Senate Committee on the Judiciary, 81st Cong., 1st and 2d Sessions 665.)

^5  Cf. Toyosaburo Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214, 65 S.Ct. 193, 89 L.Ed. 194.

^6  18 U.S.C. § 3043, 18 U.S.C.A. § 3043; cf. Criminal Code of New York, 66 McKinney's Consolidated Laws, c. II, § 84.

^7  Criminal Justice Act, 1948, § 21(2).

^8  Hermann Go ring, on cross-examination, made the following statements:

'* * * (T)hose who had committed some act of treason against the new state, or those who might be proved to have committed such an act, were naturally turned over to the courts. The others, however, of whom one might expect such acts, but who had not yet committed them, were taken into protective custody, and these were the people who were taken to concentration camps. * * * Likewise, if for political reasons * * * someone was taken into protective custody, that is, purely for reasons of state, this could not be reviewed or stopped by any court.' He claimed (though the claim seemed specious) that twenty-four hours after being put in concentration camps they were informed of the reasons and after forty-eight hours were allowed an attorney. 'But this by no means rescinded my order that a review was not permitted by the courts of a politically necessary measure of protective custody. These people were simply to be given an opportunity of making a protest.' 9 International Military Tribunal Proceedings 420-421 (March 18, 1946).

^9  The trial court sought to reconcile due process for the individual with claims of security by suggesting that the Attorney General disclose in camera enough to enable a judicial determination of the legality of the confinement. The Attorney General refused. I do not know just how an in camera proceeding would be handled in this kind of case. If respondent, with or without counsel, were present, disclosures to them might well result in disclosures by them. If they are not allowed to be present, it is hard to see how it would answer the purpose of testing the Government's case by cross-examination or counter- evidence, which is what a hearing is for. The questions raised by the proposal need not be discussed since they do not call for decision here.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).