Jackson, Vinson, Reed, and 'Reds': The Second Circuit Justices’ Denials of Bail to the Bail Fund Trustees (1951)
7 Journal of Law (2 Journal of In-Chambers Practice) 19-32 (2017)
17 Pages Posted: 1 Mar 2018 Last revised: 15 Mar 2018
Date Written: February 28, 2018
This article chronicles a Cold War saga involving American Communist Party leaders; their criminal prosecutions and convictions; defenders of their civil rights; U.S. Supreme Court justices; “Circuit Justice” decisions in chambers; and various persons’ travels, law work, and law work avoidance.
In June 1951, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the criminal convictions and prison sentences of eleven leaders of the Communist Party of the U.S.A. (Dennis v. U.S.), declined to review the criminal contempt convictions and prison sentences of six of their attorneys (Sacher v. U.S.), and then began its summer recess.
These defendants, who were out on bail during their appeals, then petitioned Justice Robert H. Jackson, the Second Circuit Justice, to stay the issuance of the Court’s mandate. After hearing oral argument in his chambers, Justice Jackson granted the stay to the Sacher defendants but denied it to the Dennis defendants.
The Dennis mandate then issued. The trial court in the Southern District of New York ordered the defendants to surrender for incarceration. Seven did surrender but four did not — they skipped out on their bail.
To assist in the pursuit of these prominent fugitives, the District Court summoned to testify the trustees of the civil rights fund that had provided their bail. The District Court sought to determine if the trustees had relevant information — bail fund donors, for example, might be people who were assisting the fugitives. But the Bail Fund trustees — Frederick Vanderbilt Field, Dashiell Hammett, and W. Alphaeus Hunton — claimed constitutional privileges and refused to testify. So the District Court convicted them of criminal contempt and sentenced them to prison.
The Bail Fund trustees appealed their convictions and sought bail pending appeal. After the District Court and then the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit denied the Trustees’ motions for bail, they were incarcerated.
The Bail Fund trustees then sought bail from the Supreme Court’s Second Circuit Justice. Justice Jackson, who by then was away from the Court on his summer vacation at the Bohemian Grove in California, told Chief Justice Vinson, vacationing in the Adirondacks, that he (Jackson) would not hear the matter. Vinson then appointed Justice Stanley Reed, vacationing at his home in Kentucky, to serve as Acting Second Circuit Justice. Reed, after hearing argument at his home in Kentucky, denied the petitions — the Bail Fund trustees remained in prison.
After the Court of Appeals affirmed the Bail Fund trustees’ criminal contempt convictions that fall, the trustees sought Supreme Court review. They also petitioned Circuit Justice Jackson for bail while the Court considered whether to review the convictions. The Court denied review. Concurrently, Justice Jackson denied the petitions (now moot) for bail.
In the end, each Bail Fund trustee served multiple months in federal prison for his criminal contempt conviction for refusal to testify.
Keywords: Justice Jackson, Robert H. Jackson, Chief Justice Vinson, Justice Reed,Dennis v. United States, Sacher v. United States, Communist Party, CPUSA, Frederick Vanderbilt Field, Dashiell Hammett, W. Alphaeus Hunton
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