The Enigma of the Watkins and Barenblatt Decisions: The Supreme Court, Congressional investigations and the First Amendment
Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Dr. Jerold Simmons
In 1954 during the height of the investigating fervor which characterized the McCarthy era, union organizer John Watkins and college professor Lloyd Barenblatt appeared before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Each refused to answer the Committee's questions regarding past Communist associations. Neither relied on the self-incrimination protection of the Fifth Amendment. Both were convicted of contempt of Congress, and both appealed their convictions to the Supreme Court. In 1957 the Court overturned the Watkins conviction, but in 1959 it affirmed that of Barenblatt. Chief Justice Earl Warren's opinion in the Watkins case, one of four libertarian decisions handed down on the same day in 1957, soundly scolded the United States Congress for permitting its anti-subversion investigations to run slipshod over the private affairs and public reputations of individuals. He indicated that unless the situation was remedied, the Court might be forced to intervene to protect the First Amendment rights of congressional witnesses. These libertarian decisions generated extreme public criticism that the Court had naively underestimated the seriousness of domestic subversion. Congressional conservatives were particularly outraged.
Bruner, Karen Jane, "The Enigma of the Watkins and Barenblatt Decisions: The Supreme Court, Congressional investigations and the First Amendment" (1990). Student Work. 2222.
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A Thesis Presented to the Department of History and the Faculty of the Graduate College University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Master of Arts University of Nebraska at Omaha. Copyright Karen Bruner May, 1990