Common Sense and the Fifth Amendment

Common Sense and the Fifth Amendment

Common Sense and the Fifth Amendment

Common Sense and the Fifth Amendment

Excerpt

Few questions of constitutional law in recent years have aroused so much interest, so much passionate interest, as the nature, justification, and implications of the privilege against self-incrimination expressed in the Fifth Amendment. Unfortunately the discussion provoked by this interest has very often been carried on in an excited rhetoric which has obscured basic issues. On many occasions, it has reflected political bias and not the in. formed and intelligent concern for freedom and justice, which are the chief commitments one should bring to the subject. It is safe to say that many who have discussed the question have been overly influenced by two sets of facts. The first is that the overwhelming majority of those who have invoked the self-incriminatory provision of the Fifth Amendment have done so in answer to questions concerning their involvement in the Communist movement. The second is that these questions have been put by Congressional committees whose purposes or personnel have been extremely controversial. Those who approve of them have tended to believe they can do no wrong; those who disapprove that they can do no right.

Whoever permits himself to consider the relevant clause of the Fifth Amendment only in relation to the phenomena of Communist conspiracy and/or cultural vigilantism is not likely to reach sound conclusions on the subject. The privilege against self-incrimination was invoked long be-

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