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Sweezy v. New Hampshire, 354 U.S. 234 (1957), was a case before the United States Supreme Court in which the Court ruled that jailing an academic when he refused to answer questions about university lectures he had given was a violation of due process. On a larger scale, the decision established constitutional protections for academic freedom and reined in the investigative powers of state legislatures.

Sweezy v. New Hampshire
Seal of the United States Supreme Court
Argued March 5, 1957
Decided June 17, 1957
Full case namePaul M. Sweezy v. State of New Hampshire by Louis C. Wyman, Attorney General
Citations354 U.S. 234 (more)
77 S. Ct. 1203, 1 L. Ed. 2d 1311, 1957 U.S. LEXIS 655
ArgumentOral argument
Case history
PriorSweezy convicted, Merrimack County Superior Court (1954); aff'd in Wyman v. Sweezy, 100 N.H. 103, 121 A. 2d 783, (N.H. 1956); review denied, (N.H. 1956); cert. granted, 352 U.S. 812 (1956)
SubsequentRemanded to the New Hampshire Supreme Court; petition for rehearing denied, 355 U.S. 852 (1957)
Due to the unknown government interest into Sweezy's lectures and the lack of legislative oversight of the investigation, appellant's conviction violated his right to due process.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Earl Warren
Associate Justices
Hugo Black · Felix Frankfurter
William O. Douglas · Harold H. Burton
Tom C. Clark · John M. Harlan II
William J. Brennan Jr. · Charles E. Whittaker
Case opinions
PluralityWarren, joined by Black, Douglas, Brennan
ConcurrenceFrankfurter, joined by Harlan
DissentClark, joined by Burton
Whittaker took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. I, XIV



In 1951, the New Hampshire General Court, the legislature of New Hampshire, passed an act that empowered the New Hampshire Attorney General to investigate subversion; that act, the Subversive Activities Act of 1951, was codified into state law as RSA 588.[1] The law provided for fines of up to $20,000 and imprisonment for twenty years for failing to cooperate with the Attorney General during an investigation. In 1953,[2] the legislature amended the law to allow the Attorney General to sit as a one-man legislative committee,[3] subpoenaing witnesses, requesting funding, and holding public or in camera sessions as he saw fit; thus delegated these powers, Attorney General Louis C. Wyman proceeded to begin his investigation of Communist subversion in New Hampshire later that year.[4]

His investigation looked into the connections, backgrounds, and beliefs of individuals such as Elba Chase Nelson, a former Communist candidate for governor; Florence Luscomb,[5] the architect and activist; and Paul Sweezy, an economist and magazine editor. (The latter two both contributed to the socialist magazine Monthly Review and the magazine of the Socialist Union of America, The American Socialist.[6])

Sweezy was a Marxian economist and the founding editor of the Monthly Review.[7] In January 1954, he was subpoenaed by the state Attorney General to answer questions related to his connections to socialists and communists; he was later ordered to appear again in June, to discuss the notes of a March 22 lecture on Marxism he had delivered at the University of New Hampshire.[8] In particular, Attorney General Wyman sought to discover Sweezy's beliefs about the inevitability of socialism, dialectical materialism, and whether Sweezy had advocated Marxism.[9] At both times, Sweezy refused to answer particular questions related to his connections, the lecture, and Communism.

Following his refusal to answer questions, on June 30,[10] Wyman had Sweezy found in contempt of court by the Merrimack County Superior Court,[11] but freed on $1,000 bond, pending appeal.[12] During the appeals process, Sweezy continued to lecture at the University of New Hampshire.[13][14]

Sweezy appealed to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, which affirmed his conviction. After the Supreme Court of the United States decision in Pennsylvania v. Nelson, Sweezy requested a rehearing in the New Hampshire Supreme Court, which was denied.[15]

Sweezy then appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States. At oral argument, Attorney General Wyman represented the state of New Hampshire.

Opinion of the CourtEdit

Chief Justice Earl Warren delivered an opinion for a plurality of four justices,[16] noting that the circumstances of the case, including an overly broad mandate for the Attorney General of New Hampshire, warranted a reversal of Sweezy's conviction. Though touching upon academic freedom tangentially, the plurality opinion did not go so far as to cite it as the whole basis whereby the Court ruled; rather, Warren's opinion noted that "the basic discretion of determining the direction of the legislative inquiry has been turned over to the investigative agency": that Wyman, as Attorney General, operated more or less without oversight from the legislative branch. In other words, due to the "sweeping and uncertain mandate" given to Wyman and "lack of any indications that the legislature wanted the information the Attorney General attempted to elicit from petitioner [Sweezy]", the government interest was unknown, and no direction was given regarding the objective of the investigation. As such, Sweezy's conviction violated his right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment.[17]

Justice Frankfurter, a former professor at Harvard Law School, wrote a concurrence that centered on the principles of academic freedom, and how they would be affected by governmental interference.[18] Joined by Justice Harlan, Frankfurter noted that "a free society [depends] on free universities", and that institutions of higher education were shielded, in part, from the intervention of governmental authorities, which would be deleterious to the "intellectual life" of the university. He ultimately concluded that: "In the political realm, as in the academic, thought and action are presumptively immune from inquisition by political authority."

Justice Tom C. Clark dissented, joined by Justice Burton. Clark was concerned about how the majority opinion would affect the power of state legislatures to protect themselves against subversion,[19] as well as conduct and oversee investigations.

Because Justice Whittaker was seated in late March of 1957, after oral arguments had concluded, he took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.[20]


About a week after the decision, Attorney General Wyman, who held the rotating presidency of the National Association of Attorneys General that year, attacked the Court's decision during a meeting of attorneys-general in Idaho; one contemporary termed his attack "angry, hysterical, and unwarranted".[21] Backed by the New Hampshire legislature,[22] within twenty-three days of the ruling,[23] Wyman asked the Supreme Court to re-hear the case;[24] the Court denied his petition.[25]

In his review at the end of the Supreme Court term, Luther Huston of The New York Times noted that this case involved "[a]cademic freedom of speech and belief",[26] a fact with which later commentators have agreed.[18][27]

Despite Sweezy's success before the high court, the Act continued to remain on the books until it was repealed in 1973.[28]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Durocher, Claudette (May 8, 1964). "DeGregory Case to be Reopened at Hearing Before Superior Court Justice on May 20". Nashua Telegraph. p. 7. Retrieved June 16, 2018 – via
  2. ^ "Gregg Approves State Red Hunt". The Portsmouth Herald. June 18, 1953. p. 10. Retrieved July 15, 2018 – via
  3. ^ "House Expected to Back Wyman". Nashua Telegraph. July 10, 1957.
  4. ^ "State's Communist Probe Scheduled to Start Soon". Nashua Telegraph. September 3, 1953. p. 8. Retrieved July 6, 2018 – via
  5. ^ "Woman Invokes 5th Amendment". The Portsmouth Herald. Associated Press. October 6, 1955. p. 13. Retrieved July 7, 2018 – via
  6. ^ "American Socialist". Retrieved 2018-07-07.
  7. ^ Uchitelle, Louis (2004-03-02). "Paul Sweezy, 93, Marxist Publisher and Economist, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved 2018-06-14.
  8. ^ "2 FIGHT LECTURE INQUIRY; Challenge Compulsion on Talk at U. of New Hampshire". The New York Times. June 29, 1954. Retrieved July 6, 2018.
  9. ^ Simon, John J. (2000-04-01). "Sweezy v. New Hampshire: the Radicalism of Principle". Monthly Review. Retrieved 2018-06-13.
  10. ^ "Sweezy Takes Appeal to High Court". The Portsmouth Herald. Associated Press. October 1, 1954. p. 8. Retrieved July 15, 2018 – via
  11. ^ Inazu, John D. (2012). Liberty's refuge: the forgotten freedom of assembly. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press. p. 73. ISBN 9780300176377. OCLC 842262252.
  12. ^ Huston., Luther A. (June 18, 1957). "UNION AIDE VICTOR; Contempt Case Ruling Given by Warren-- Clark Dissents Could Affect Other Cases Another Conviction Reversed WATKINS CLEARED BY SUPREME COURT Others May be Affected Barred Some Answers Questioned Scope of Inquiry The Sweezy Case". The New York Times. Retrieved July 6, 2018.
  13. ^ "SWEEZY TALK PLANNED; New Hampshire U. to Hear Editor Convicted of Contempt". The New York Times. May 15, 1956. Retrieved July 6, 2018.
  14. ^ "People of Granite State Pause to Pay Tribute to Nation's Dead". The Portsmouth Herald. Associated Press. May 31, 1956. p. 1. Retrieved July 15, 2018 – via
  15. ^ "New Hampshire Court Says State Sedition Laws Are Valid". Bennington Banner. Associated Press. April 20, 1956. p. 1. Retrieved July 15, 2018 – via
  16. ^ Hoofnagle, Chris (2001-12-15). "Matters of Public Concern and the Public University Professor". Journal of College and University Law. 27: 669. Retrieved 2019-01-15.
  17. ^ Blanchard, Joan M.; Bender, Martin J. (2015). Patriots, Pirates, Politicians and Profit Seekers: New Hampshire Cases and the United States Supreme Court (2nd ed.). New Hampshire Bar Association. pp. 84–86.
  18. ^ a b Byrne, J. Peter (1989). "Academic Freedom: A 'Special Concern of the First Amendment'". Yale Law Journal. 99: 289–293.
  19. ^ Mimi Clark Gronlund (2010). Supreme Court Justice Tom C. Clark: A Life of Service. University of Texas Press. pp. 233–. ISBN 978-0-292-77914-3.
  20. ^ Volz, Marlin M. (1958). "Mr. Justice Whittaker". Notre Dame Law Review. 33 (2): 199–211. doi:10.5642/aliso.19851102.08. ISSN 0745-3515.
  21. ^ Davies, Lawrence E. (June 25, 1957). "LAW GROUP HEAD HITS HIGH COURT; New Hampshire's Attorney General Assails Decisions Curbing Investigations LAW GROUP HEAD HITS HIGH COURT Urges Four Moves". The New York Times. Retrieved July 6, 2018.
  22. ^ "New Hearing Asked In Sweezy Case". Portsmouth Herald. Associated Press. July 16, 1957. p. 1. Retrieved July 15, 2018 – via
  23. ^ "Expect Quick Legislative Action on Sweezy Resolve". Nashua Telegraph. Associated Press. July 8, 1957. p. 1. Retrieved 2018-07-15 – via
  24. ^ "Sweezy Rehearing Asked". The New York Times. United Press International. July 17, 1957. p. 11. Retrieved July 6, 2018.
  25. ^ Pollak, Louis H. (1957). "Mr. Justice Frankfurter: Judgment and the Fourteenth Amendment". Yale Law Journal. 67: 314.
  26. ^ Huston, Luther A. (July 1, 1957). "Review of the Session; HIGH COURT NEARS END OF LONG TERM Stirred Wide Resentment Back Bill of Rights Liberal Trend Seen COMMUNIST CASES CIVIL RIGHTS CASES F.B.I. Action Curbed LABOR CASES Union Held Employer BUSINESS CASES Mineral Rights an Issue TAX CASES MILITARY CASES CENSORSHIP CASES". The New York Times. Retrieved July 6, 2018.
  27. ^ Lithwick, Dahlia; Schragger, Richard (June 1, 2010). "Jefferson v. Cuccinelli: Does the Constitution really protect a right to "academic freedom"?". Slate. ISSN 1091-2339. Retrieved July 6, 2018.
  28. ^ "Chapter 588 Repealed". Retrieved July 6, 2018.

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