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Case Basics
Docket No. 
(Argued the cause for the petitioner)
(Argued the cause for the respondents)
Location: Congress
Facts of the Case 

In early 1975, Senator William Proxmire implemented what he called the "Golden Fleece Award of the Month." The award was given out to governmental agencies which sponsored programs and research that Proxmire found to be a waste of tax dollars. One Golden Fleece went to federal agencies sponsoring the research of Ronald Hutchinson, a behavioral scientist. Proxmire detailed the "nonsense" of Hutchinson's research on the floor of the Senate, in conferences with his staff, and in a newsletter sent to over 100,000 of his constituents. Hutchinson sued for libel, arguing that Proxmire's statements defamed his character and caused him to endure financial loss.


Were Proxmire's activities and statements against Hutchinson's research protected by the Speech and Debate Clause of Article I, Section 6 of the Constitution?

Decision: 8 votes for Hutchinson, 1 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Article 1, Section 6, Paragraph 1: Speech or Debate Clause

No. The Court affirmed the decision of the lower court and held that Proxmire's statements in his newsletters and press releases were not protected by the Speech and Debate Clause. However, in upholding this ruling, the Court also found that Proxmire's statements were not made with "actual malice" and thus, were not libelous. Chief Justice Burger, relying on the Court's finding in Doe v. McMillan (1973), concluded that while speeches in Congress and discussions with staff were protected by Section 6, statements in newsletters and press releases were not because they were not "essential to the deliberations of the Senate" nor were they part of the legislature's "deliberative process."

Cite this Page
HUTCHINSON v. PROXMIRE. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 10 September 2014. <>.
HUTCHINSON v. PROXMIRE, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, (last visited September 10, 2014).
"HUTCHINSON v. PROXMIRE," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed September 10, 2014,