Ullmann v. United States 350 U.S. 422 (1956)

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ULLMANN v. UNITED STATES 350 U.S. 422 (1956)

Ullmann, relying on his right not to be a witness against himself, refused to testify before a federal grand jury concerning his alleged communist activities. Though he received immunity against prosecution for any criminal transaction concerning which he was compelled to testify, he continued pertinacious. Ullmann argued against the constitutionality of the congressional Immunity Act of 1954 on the grounds that it did not immunize him from such disabilities as loss of job, expulsion from labor unions, compulsory registration as a subversive, passport ineligibility, and general public opprobrium. Thus he distinguished his case from brown v. walker (1896) on the theory that he had not received full transactional immunity. The Court rejected Ullmann's argument, 7–2. Justice felix frankfurter for the majority reasoned that the Fifth Amendment's right to silence operated only to prevent the compulsion of testimony that might expose one to a criminal charge. The disabilities to which Ullmann claimed exposure were not criminal penalties. Justices william o. douglas and hugo l. black, dissenting, would have held the immunity act unconstitutional on the ground that the right of silence created by the Fifth Amendment is beyond the reach of Congress. Douglas contended that the amendment was designed to protect against infamy, as well as prosecution, and against forfeitures—those disabilities of which Ullmann spoke—as well as criminal fines and imprisonment.

Leonard W. Levy