RECENT DECISIONS BY THE COURTS
FROM the very beginnings of American government, both houses of Congress have repeatedly obtained information by means of investigating committees. The courts have, however, been slow in providing a clear definition of the scope of the power. The litigation with respect to the Congressional investigative power revolves around two general questions : (I) for what purposes may investigations be conducted; and (2) what are the legal limitations on the activities of the committees who pursue the investigations? Moreover, since the power of inquiry may be aided or hindered by a strengthening or a weakening of the Congressional power to punish for the contempt of one of its committees, a closely related question is: (3) what is the nature of the power of the House or Senate to punish for contempt?
During the past decade several judicial opinions, some of them by the Supreme Court, have thrown a few additional rays of light on each of these questions.
JUDICIAL OPINIONS RELATING TO THE PURPOSES OF INVESTIGATIONS. It may bear repeating that the principal functions of a legislative assembly may be grouped into four classes: to enact laws, to hold the executive officers to a strict accountability, to serve as an organ of public opinion, and to perform certain duties which relate to its own members. 1 It has been seen also that each house of Congress has frequently made use of Congressional investigations in the performance of each of these primary responsibilities. Although the judicial opinions in recent years have been distinctly favorable to Congressional investigating, however, the courts have not yet found occasion to declare specifically that all four of the major purposes of the inquiries are valid.____________________