The Constitution and Contempt of Court

Few legal devices find conflict within the lines of our Constitution with the ubiquity of the contempt power. These conflicts involve issues concerning the governmental power structure such as the separation of powers and the delicate balancing of federal-state relations. In addition, there are civil rights issues attributable to the conflict between the use of the contempt power and such vital procedural protections as the right to trial by jury, freedom from self-incrimination, double jeopardy, and indictment-to name only the most recurrent and controversial examples. Aside from these problems, there are other civil liberties issues, such as those involving freedom of speech, association, and religion, arising out of the exercise of the contempt power. The purpose of this article is to present an extensive review of the constitutional problems provoked by the use of the contempt power by American courts.