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Case Basics
Docket No. 
John Watkins
United States
Heard By 
(Argued the cause for the petitioner)
(Argued the cause for the United States)
Location: Congress
Facts of the Case 

In 1954, John Watkins, a labor organizer, was called upon to testify in hearings conducted by the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Watkins agreed to describe his alleged connections with the Communist Party and to identify current members of the Party. Watkins refused to give information concerning individuals who had left the Communist Party. Watkins argued that such questions were beyond the authority of the Committee.


Did the activities of the Un-American Activities Committee constitute an unconstitutional exercise of congressional power?

Decision: 6 votes for Watkins, 1 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Due Process

In a 6-to-1 decision, the Court held that the activities of the House Committee were beyond the scope of congressional power. The Court held that both the authorizing resolution of the Committee and the specific statements made by the Committee to Watkins failed to limit the Committee's power. The Court found that because Watkins had not been given sufficient information describing the pertinency of the questions to the subjects under inquiry, he had not been accorded a fair opportunity to determine whether he was within his rights in refusing to answer. The Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment thus invalidated Watkins' conviction.

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WATKINS v. UNITED STATES. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 26 August 2015. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1950-1959/1956/1956_261>.
WATKINS v. UNITED STATES, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1950-1959/1956/1956_261 (last visited August 26, 2015).
"WATKINS v. UNITED STATES," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed August 26, 2015, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1950-1959/1956/1956_261.