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MICHAELSON ET AL. v. UNITED STATES EX REL. CHICAGO

October 20, 1924

MICHAELSON ET AL
v.
UNITED STATES EX REL. CHICAGO, ST. PAUL, MINNEAPOLIS & OMAHA RAILWAY COMPANY

SANDEFUR
v.
CANOE CREEK COAL COMPANY



CERTIORARI TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SEVENTH CIRCUIT

Taft, McKenna, Holmes, Van Devanter, McReynolds, Brandeis, Sutherland, Butler, Sanford

Author: Sutherland

[ 266 U.S. Page 62]

 MR. JUSTICE SUTHERLAND delivered the opinion of the Court.

These cases were argued together and will be disposed of in one opinion. The principal question presented in the Michaelson case, and the sole question in the Sandefur case, is whether the provision of the Clayton Act of October 15, 1914, c. 323, 38 Stat. 738, 739, §§ 21, 22, requiring a jury trial in certain specified kinds of contempt

[ 266 U.S. Page 63]

     is constitutional. Subordinate questions presented in the Michaelson case are: (a) Whether petitioners were, or whether it is necessary that they should be, "employees" within the meaning of the act, § 20; (b) whether the acts alleged to constitute the contempt were also criminal offenses under the statutes of the United States or of the State where committed; (c) whether the provision for a jury is mandatory or permissive.

The petitioners in the Michaelson case, were striking employees of the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha Railway Company, and, with others, were proceeded against by bill in equity for combining and conspiring to interfere with interstate commerce by picketing and the use of force and violence, etc. After a hearing, a preliminary injunction was granted. Subsequently, proceedings in contempt were instituted in the District Court, charging petitioners with sundry violations of the injunction; and a rule to show cause was issued. Upon the answer and return to the rule, petitioners applied for a jury trial under § 22 of the Clayton Act, but the District Court denied the application and proceeded without a jury. At the conclusion of the hearing, the petitioners were adjudged guilty and sentenced to pay fines in various sums, and in default of payment to stand committed to jail until such fines were paid. Thereupon the case was taken to the Circuit Court of Appeals by writ of error; and by that court the judgments were affirmed. 291 Fed. 940.

 First. Is the provision of the Clayton Act, granting a right of trial by jury, constitutional? The court below held in the negative, on the ground that the power of a court to vindicate or enforce its decree in equity is inherent; is derived from the Constitution as a part of its judicial power; and that Congress is without constitutional authority to deprive the parties in an equity court of the right of trial by the chancellor.

[ 266 U.S. Page 64]

     If the statute now under review encroaches upon the equity jurisdiction intended by the Constitution, a grave constitutional question in respect of its validity would be presented; and it, therefore, becomes our duty, as this Court has frequently said, to construe it "if fairly possible, so as to avoid not only the conclusion that it is unconstitutional but also grave doubts upon that score." Panama R.R. Co. v. Johnson, 264 U.S. 375.

Shortly stated, the statute provides that wilful disobedience of any lawful writ, process, order, rule, decree or command of any district court of the United States or any court of the District of Columbia by doing any act or thing forbidden, if such act or thing be of such character as to constitute also a criminal offense under any statute of the United States or law of any State in which the act is committed, shall be proceeded against as in the statute provided. In all such cases the "trial may be by the court, or, upon demand of the accused, by a jury" and "such trial shall conform, as near as may be, to the practice in criminal cases prosecuted by indictment or upon information." Upon conviction the accused is to be punished "by fine or imprisonment, or both," the fine to be "paid to the United States or to the complainant or other party injured by the act constituting the contempt, or may, where more than one is so damaged, be divided or apportioned among them as the court may direct."

The provision for trial by jury upon demand, as we shall presently show, is mandatory; and the question to be answered is whether it infringes any power of the courts vested by the Constitution and unalterable by congressional legislation. We first inquire whether the proceeding contemplated by the statute is for a civil or a criminal contempt. If it be the latter -- since the proceeding for criminal contempt, unlike that for civil contempt, ...


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