Constitutional Law – Due Process – Limits on Investigative Power of State Legislative Committees

Defendant appeared before the New Hampshire attorney general, who was authorized by statute to investigate violations of the state subversive activities law and to determine if subversive persons, as defined therein, were present within the state. Defendant refused to answer certain questions about the contents of a university class lecture delivered by him and about his knowledge of other persons’ activities in the Progressive Party, contending that such questions infringed an area protected by the First Amendment. The state superior court conceded the infringement of defendant’s rights, but found this to be justified by state interest in self-protection, and convicted defendant for contempt. The New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. On certiorari to the United States Supreme Court, held, reversed, two justices dissenting. The investigation invaded defendant’s rights of academic freedom and political expression protected by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Because of the breadth of the resolution authorizing the investigation, no state interest was validly expressed, thus obviating any balancing of state and individual interests. Sweezy v. New Hampshire, 354 U.S. 234 (1957).