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Contempt

CONTEMPT

An act of deliberate disobedience or disregard for the laws, regulations, or decorum of a public authority, such as a court or legislative body.

Individuals may be cited for contempt when they disobey an order, fail to comply with a request, tamper with documents, withhold evidence, interrupt proceedings through their actions or words, or otherwise defy a public authority or hold it up to ridicule and disrespect. The laws and rules governing contempt have developed in a piecemeal fashion over time and give wide discretion to judges and legislative leaders in determining both what constitutes contempt and how it is punished.

Contempt of Court

Contempt of court is behavior that opposes or defies the authority, justice, and dignity of the court. Contempt charges may be brought against parties to proceedings; lawyers or other court officers or personnel; jurors; witnesses; or people who insert themselves in a case, such as protesters outside a courtroom. Courts have great leeway in making contempt charges, and thus confusion sometimes exists about the distinctions between types of contempt. Generally, however, contempt proceedings are categorized as civil or criminal, and direct or indirect.

Civil contempt generally involves the failure to perform an act that is ordered by a court as a means to enforce the rights of individuals or to secure remedies for parties in a civil action. For instance, parents who refuse to pay court-ordered child support may be held in contempt of court under civil contempt. Criminal contempt involves behavior that assaults the dignity of the court or impairs the ability of the court to conduct its work. Criminal contempt can occur within a civil or criminal case. For example, criminal contempt occurs when a witness or spectator shouts or insults the judge during a trial. A civil contempt usually is a violation of the rights of one person, whereas a criminal contempt is an offense against society. Courts use civil contempt as a coercive power, wielding it only to ask that the contemnor comply with the courts' actions. Criminal contempt is punitive; courts use it to punish parties who have impaired the courts' functioning or bruised their dignity.

A direct contempt is an act that occurs in the presence of the court and is intended to embarrass or engender disrespect for the court. Shouting in the courtroom or refusing to answer questions for a judge or attorney under oath is a direct contempt. Indirect contempt occurs outside the presence of the court, but its intention is also to belittle, mock, obstruct, interrupt, or degrade the court and its proceedings. Attempting to bribe a district attorney is an example of an indirect contempt. Publishing any material that results in a contempt charge is an indirect contempt. Other kinds of indirect contempt include preventing process service, improperly communicating to or by jurors, and withholding evidence. One man was threatened with contempt charges because he had filed more than 350 lawsuits that the judge considered frivolous. Indirect contempt also may be called constructive or consequential contempt; all three terms mean the same thing.

The essence of contempt of court is that the misconduct impairs the fair and efficient administration of justice. Contempt statutes generally require that the actions present a clear and present danger that threatens the administration of justice.

The manner in which an act is committed or the tone in which words are spoken can determine whether contempt has occurred. Circumstances, such as the context in which the words were spoken, the tone, the facial expression, the manner, and the emphasis, are also evaluated by the court. Failure to complete an act that, if completed, would tend to bring the court into disrespect does not preclude the act from being contemptuous.

Criticisms of the Contempt-of-Court Power

The discretion permitted to judges in determining what is contempt and how to punish it has led some legal scholars to argue that the contempt power gives too much authority to judges. Earl C. Dudley, University of Virginia law professor, wrote that in the contempt power, "the roles of victim, prosecutor and judge are dangerously commingled."

Much of the criticism focuses on the lack of restraint or due process in determining punishments for contempt. In criminal contempt, the contempt charges become a separate matter, but they may be heard by the judge who made them. In addition, the same judge may commence punishment immediately, and the punishment may be in effect until the contempt case is settled. Critics have argued that judges—who are the principal offended party—may be too harsh. For instance, in 1994, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a decision by a Virginia judge who had fined the United Mine Workers of America $52 million in connection with violence that occurred during a 1989 strike. The High Court stated that the fines were excessive and improperly imposed because the union had never had a chance to defend itself in a trial before the fines were imposed.

Similarly, individuals who have refused to provide courts with information have been held in jail—sometimes for years—under contempt charges. In Maryland, a woman involved in a custody battle with her ex-husband refused to reveal the whereabouts of her child. Elizabeth Morgan spent 25 months in jail before her ex-husband dropped the custody case and it was revealed that the child was staying with Morgan's parents in New Zealand. Journalist Myron Farber, of the New York Times, spent more than three years in jail for refusing to turn over notes that prosecutors sought for a murder trial.

Judges and scholars have defended the practices of indefinite jail time because the contemnor "carries the keys to his prison in his own pocket" and can be released by complying with the court (In re Nevitt, 117 F. 448 [8th Cir. 1902]).

Civil contempt proceedings end when the suit from which they arose is resolved. Criminal contempt continues as a separate matter. Settlements may involve jail time, fines, or other retribution. For instance, when the Cable News Network (CNN) was found guilty of contempt of court for airing audiotapes related to the trial of Manuel Noriega, the deposed president of Panama, the network was given the choice of airing a retraction and an apology for using the tapes or paying a large fine. The network made the apology.

Contempt of Congress

The Constitution does not explicitly grant Congress the power to coerce cooperation from individuals or to punish acts of disobedience or disrespect through contempt proceedings. However, the power was discussed at the Constitutional Convention and was implied in the Constitution. In 1795, Congress used the power of contempt for the first time when it arrested, tried, and punished a man accused of bribing members of the House of Representatives. Then Congress acted on its own authority—subsequently called the self-help power, which grants Congress the right to compel testimony and punish disobedience without the involvement of a court or other government body if the individual's actions obstruct the legislative process. By 1821, the Supreme Court recognized Congress's power to arrest and punish individuals for contempt. In 1857, Congress created a statute governing prosecution for contempt, which shifted the responsibility for determining contempt from Congress

itself to the courts. Until 1945, Congress largely ignored this criminal statute and continued to compel testimony and deal with contemnors through its own power.

In the late twentieth century, the Supreme Court noted, "Congress has practically abandoned its original practice of utilizing the coercive (self-help) sanction of contempt proceedings at the bar of the House" (Watkins v. United States, 354 U.S. 178, 77 S. Ct. 1173, 1 L. Ed. 2d 1273[1957]). Under the criminal statute, Congress must petition the U.S. attorney to bring a case of possible contempt before a grand jury. The case is then tried in federal court.

Most contempt citations arise from Congress's investigatory powers. In its decisions since world war ii, the Supreme Court has outlined requirements that Congress must meet before it can compel testimony. The investigation must have a valid legislative purpose. It must be conducted by a committee or subcommittee of the House of Representatives or Senate, or the authority of the investigating body must be clearly defined in a resolution. The questions asked of witnesses must be pertinent to the subject of inquiry. Contempt proceedings cannot be used to harass an individual or organization. Finally, before individuals can be held in contempt, they must willfully default, either by failing to appear before the investigating body or by refusing to answer pertinent questions.

Congress's contempt power has come into conflict with the first amendment in several cases. The first of these cases was Barenblatt v. United States, 360 U.S. 109, 79 S. Ct. 1081, 3 L. Ed. 2d 1115 (1959), in which Lloyd Barenblatt refused to answer five questions of the House Un-American Activities Committee, regarding Communist infiltration of educational institutions. Barenblatt was convicted of contempt then appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that the questions violated his First Amendment right to freedom of association. The Court, in a 5–4 decision, supported Barenblatt. The Court stated that the questions were too vague to support a contempt citation and that Congress's investigative powers must be balanced against First Amendment rights.

The conflict between Congress's investigative powers and the First Amendment surfaced again in 1992 when Nina Totenberg, a National Public Radio correspondent, refused to answer questions of a Senate special counsel about how she obtained confidential documents related to the nomination of clarence thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court. Totenberg had earlier revealed that the senate judiciary committee was looking into accusations that Thomas had sexually harassed members of his staff. The charges led to public testimony by law professor anita hill. A Senate special counsel asked to have Totenberg held in contempt when she refused to reveal who leaked information about the charges to her. The request was denied by the Senate Rules Committee because of its potential "chilling effect on the media."

Congress also has used the contempt power in conflicts with private parties and the executive branch of government. For instance, business partners of Ferdinand Marcos, former president of the Philippines, produced documents for the House Foreign Affairs Committee only under threat of contempt citations. And James G. Watt, former secretary of the interior, was charged with contempt by a congressional committee in the early 1980s when, citing executive privilege, he refused to release interior department documents.

Contempt Proceedings against President Clinton

On April 12, 1999, President william jefferson clinton became the first sitting president in United States history to be held in contempt of court. The contempt charge against President Clinton stemmed from a deposition he gave in connection with a 1994 sexual harassment lawsuit filed by Paula Jones. Jones v. Clinton, 858 F. Supp. 902 (E.D. Ark. 1994). Jones alleged that on May 8, 1991, she was an Arkansas state employee working at a conference held at a hotel in Little Rock. At some point during the conference, Jones claimed she was escorted to a hotel room by one of Clinton's bodyguards, where she was introduced to the then-governor. Shortly after the introduction, Jones alleged that Clinton dropped his trousers and demanded oral sex from her. Jones said that though she refused and was allowed to leave, her career as a state government employee suffered thereafter.

The Jones lawsuit languished in pre-trial discovery for the first three years after it was filed. On January 17, 1998, Jones and her lawyers deposed Clinton, who was now serving his second term as president of the United States. During the deposition, Clinton was asked a series of questions about his relationship with a White House intern named Monica Lewinsky. The president testified that he was never alone with the former White House intern and did not have a sexual relationship with her.

A subsequent probe by independent counsel kenneth starr revealed that the president's DNA had been found on Lewinsky's dress, which eventually led Clinton to admit that he had an "inappropriate intimate relationship" with his former intern (Jones v. Clinton, 36 F. Supp. 2d 1118 (E.D. Ark. 1999). The discovery of the dress also fueled the House of Representatives to draft articles of impeachment against the president.

A month after giving the deposition, Clinton filed a motion to dismiss the Jones lawsuit. On April 1, 1998, United States District Judge susan webber wright granted the motion to dismiss, finding that Jones had "failed to demonstrate that she has a case worthy of submitting to a jury." Jones v. Clinton, 990 F. Supp. 657 (E.D. Ark. 1998). While the case was pending on appeal, Clinton and Jones settled the sexual harassment lawsuit for $850,000.

A year later Judge Wright addressed the issue whether President Clinton should be held in contempt for denying his relationship with Lewinsky during the January 1998 deposition. At the time he gave the deposition, there was very little evidence indicating that the president's testimony was false. But in the 14 months that followed, it became clear that the president had not only been alone with Monica Lewinsky but also had some form of sexual relations with her.

Accordingly, Judge Wright found the president in contempt for giving "false, misleading and evasive answers that were designed to obstruct the judicial process" at a deposition over which she personally presided. Jones v. Clinton, 36 F. Supp. 2d 1118 (E.D. Ark. 1999). Although Clinton maintained that his "inti-mate" relationship with Lewinsky did not constitute "sexual" relations, Wright said that it is difficult to construe "the president's sworn statements … as anything other than a willful refusal to obey this court's discovery orders." Jones v. Clinton 36 F. Supp. 2d 1118 (E.D. Ark. 1999).

In July 1998, Wright leveled a $90,686 fine against the president. Wright said regarding this case that the fine was intended to both punish Clinton for the contempt violation and also "to deter others who might consider emulating the president's misconduct."

Wright then referred the matter to the Arkansas Supreme Court to determine whether the president should lose his license to practice law in that state. In May 1999 the Arkansas Supreme Court Committee on Professional Conduct recommended that Clinton be disbarred. However, on January 19, 2001, his last day in office, President Clinton resolved the case before the state ethics committee by agreeing to surrender his law license for a period of five years and admitting, according to Pete Yost in an AP Online report, that he "knowingly gave evasive and misleading answers" about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky in violation of Arkansas rules governing attorney ethics. Additionally, Clinton agreed to pay a $25,000 fine.

further readings

Alderman, Ellen, and Caroline Kennedy. 1991. In Our Defense: The Bill of Rights in Action. New York: Morrow.

Beck, Carl. 1959. Contempt of Congress: A Study of the Prosecutions Initiated by the Committee on Un-American Activities, 1945–1957. Hauser Press.

Dudley, Earl C. 1993. "Getting Beyond the Civil/Criminal Distinction: A New Approach to the Regulation of Indirect Contempts." Virginia Law Review 79.

Goldfarb, Ronald L. 1963. The Contempt Power. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

Mangan, James J. 1994." Contempt for the Fourth Estate: No Reporter's Privilege Before a Congressional Investigation." Georgetown Law Journal 83.

Yost, Pete. January 20, 2001. "Clinton Admits False Statements." AP Online.

cross-references

Communism; Freedom of the Press.

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Contempt

Contempt

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Contempt is a universal human emotion. While there are minor differences among emotion theorists and researchers, there is general consensus about the features of contempt. First, contempt is an interpersonal emotion; that is, it occurs in social situations, when people are interacting with or observing others. Second, it involves a negative evaluation of another persons behavior, which in and of itself signals ones sense of self-importance relative to others. Third, it involves feelings of moral superiority over the other personthat is, the feeling that the person is lower or unworthy. Fourth, it involves positive feelings about oneself.

Contempt is often confused with other emotions, particularly anger and disgust. Research, however, has demonstrated that contempt has its own unique facial expressiona unilateral curl and/or tightening of the lip corner, but only on one side of the face. This expression often occurs with a slight head raise and tilt, to give the appearance that one is looking down ones nose at the other, and/or turning away at the same time. Studies have also shown that individuals may not use the word contempt very frequently, and are generally not able to give a definition of it that includes the various components described above. Yet, most individuals certainly understand the situations in which it is elicited, and can reliably match the universal facial expression of contempt with those situations.

One of the functions of contempt is to create or maintain a social hierarchy. Being contemptuous of another person signifies ones judgment of the other persons social rank relative to ones own. Contempt prepares one to establish ones dominance in the hierarchy. Expressing that emotion through ones facial expressions, demeanor, or behaviors sends signals to others of ones intentions to establish hierarchical superiority. Recipients of those signals may either acquiesce, thereby conferring status to the contemptuous person, or they may prepare themselves for dominance struggles, which may set the stage for a new hierarchy.

Another function of the emotion of contempt is to validate ones self-worth. Although contempt is normally considered by many people to be a negative emotion, in reality contempt involves positive feelings about ones own self-worth. Thus, contempt may feel good, even though the situation that elicits it may be viewed as a negative one. Indeed, it may be important for all humans to validate their feelings of self-worth in this manner from time to time.

Although there is a class of emotions that humans share with other animals, there is some evidence to suggest that contempt may be an emotion that is unique to humans. This may be because contempt involves evaluations of ones moral superiority over others. Complex cognitive abilities are required in order for this evaluation to occur, particularly the ability to know that other people are intentional agents (i.e., they do things because they are motivated to do so), and the ability to evaluate the actions of others according to agreed-upon cultural norms and mores. These cognitive abilities exist in humans, but not other animals.

Contempt has unique interpersonal effects. Because contempt signals ones moral superiority over another person, it can lead to destructive outcomes in some social relationships. For example, research on distressed married couples has shown that if contempt is expressed by one member of the couple, especially the husband, when discussing areas of major disagreement, the couple is more likely to be in trouble, report greater marital dissatisfaction, report greater periods of marital separation, and experience greater health problems.

Contempt also has important intergroup effects. It serves to differentiate ingroups from outgroups, and helps individuals to depersonalize others. The depersonalization of others makes it easier for collective violence to occur, as it gives people permission to do unto others what they would normally be restrained from doing. Political leaders in the midst of war often describe the enemy with contempt-related words and phrases, suggesting that the enemy is beneath members of their culture, and somehow unworthy. These feelings may be necessary to provoke humans to engage in collective violence against others. Thus, an analysis of contempt may play a major role in understanding intergroup conflict.

SEE ALSO Genocide; Humiliation; Shame; Violence

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Ekman, Paul, and Wallace V. Friesen. 1986. A New Pan-Cultural Facial Expression of Emotion. Motivation and Emotion 10 (2): 159168.

Gottman, John M., Robert W. Levenson, and Erica Woodin. 2001. Facial Expressions during Marital Conflict. Journal of Family Communication 1 (1): 3757.

Matsumoto, David, and Paul Ekman. 2004. The Relationship among Expressions, Labels, and Descriptions of Contempt. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 87 (4): 529540.

David Matsumoto

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contempt

contempt, in law, interference with the functioning of a legislature or court. In its narrow and more usual sense, contempt refers to the despising of the authority, justice, or dignity of a court. A contempt of court can be classified as civil or criminal, direct or constructive. Civil and criminal contempts are distinguished by the function of the punishment—if it is to vindicate judicial authority, the contempt is criminal; if it is to enforce the rights and remedies of a party, the contempt is civil. A direct contempt is one committed in the presence of the court while it is in session. A constructive contempt is one that is committed at a distance from the court and that tends to obstruct or defeat the administration of justice. A refusal to answer a question when directed to answer by a judge is a direct criminal contempt. Disobeying an injunction or a court order that a judgment (e.g., alimony) be satisfied is a civil contempt. A major distinction is whether the court needs to hear evidence to determine if a contempt was committed. Direct criminal contempts may be punished summarily by fine or imprisonment; civil and constructive criminal contempts can also be punished by fine or imprisonment, but the accused must be granted a hearing. In the United States, Congress can punish for contempt of Congress behavior that occurs during legislative proceedings and that threatens its legislative power. Congress must act before it adjourns, and any imprisonment can last no longer than that session. State legislatures also have limited powers to punish for contempt.

See C. J. Miller, Contempt of Court (1989).

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contempt

con·tempt / kənˈtem(p)t/ • n. the feeling that a person or a thing is beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving scorn: he showed his contempt for his job by doing it badly. ∎  disregard for something that should be taken into account: an arrogant contempt for the wishes of the majority. ∎  (also contempt of court) the offense of being disobedient to or disrespectful of a court of law and its officers: several unions were held to be in contempt. ∎  the offense of being similarly disobedient to or disrespectful of the lawful operation of a legislative body. PHRASES: beneath contempt utterly worthless or despicable. hold someone/something in contempt consider someone or something to be unworthy of respect or attention.

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contempt

contempt XIV. — L. contemptus, f. contempt-, pp. stem of contemnere CONTEMN.
So contemptible XIV. — (O)F. or late L. contemptuous †contemptible; full of contempt. XVI. — medL. contemptuōsus.

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contempt

contempt In law, disorderly conduct in a court or legislative body, or action performed elsewhere that tends to obstruct the work of a court or legislative body, or bring it into disrepute.

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Contempt

CONTEMPT

SeeLE MÉPRIS

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contempt

contempt •unstamped •attempt, contempt, dreamt, exempt, kempt, pre-empt, tempt •Klimt • prompt

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