Shaughnessy v. Mezei

345 U.S. 206
Shaughnessy v. Mezei
Argued: January 7 and 8, 1953
Decided: March 16, 1953


Mr. Ross L. Malone, Jr., Roswell, N.M., for petitioner.

Mr. Jack Wasserman, Washington, D.C., for respondent.

Mr. Justice CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court.

Dissenting Opinion

Mr. Justice BLACK, with whom Mr. Justice DOUGLAS concurs, dissenting.

Mezei came to this country in 1923 and lived as a resident alien in Buffalo, New York, for twenty-five years. He made a trip to Europe in 1948 and was stopped at our shore on his return in 1950. Without charge of or conviction for any crime, he was for two years held a prisoner on Ellis Island by order of the Attorney General. Mezei sought habeas corpus in the District Court. He wanted to go to his wife and home in Buffalo. The Attorney General defended the imprisonment by alleging that it would be dangerous to the Nation’s security to let Mezei go home even temporarily on bail. Asked for proof of this, the Attorney General answered the judge that all his information was ‘of a confidential nature’ so much so that telling any of it or even telling the names of any of his secret informers would jeopardize the safety of the Nation. Finding that Mezei’s life as a resident alien in Buffalo had been ‘unexceptional’ and that no facts had been proven to justify his continued imprisonment, the District Court granted bail. The Court of Appeals approved. Now this Court orders Mezei to leave his home and go back to his island prison to stay indefinitely, maybe for life.

Mr. Justice JACKSON forcefully points out the danger in the Court’s holding that Mezei’s liberty is completely at the mercy of the unreviewable discretion of the Attorney General. I join Mr. Justice JACKSON in the belief that Mezei’s continued imprisonment without a hearing violates due process of law.

No society is free where government makes one person’s liberty depend upon the arbitrary will of another. Dictatorships have done this since time immemorial. They do now. Russian laws of 1934 authorized the People’s Commissariat to imprison, banish and exile Russian citizens as well as ‘foreign subjects who are socially dangerous.’ Hitler’s secret police were given like powers. German courts were forbidden to make any inquiry whatever as to the information on which the police acted. Our Bill of Rights was written to prevent such oppressive practices. Under it this Nation has fostered and protected individual freedom. The Founders abhorred arbitrary one-man imprisonments. Their belief was-our constitutional principles are that no person of any faith, rich or poor, high or low, native or foreigner, white or colored, can have his life, liberty or property taken ‘without due process of law.’ This means to me that neither the federal police nor federal prosecutors nor any other governmental official, whatever his title, can put or keep people in prison without accountability to courts of justice. It means that individual liberty is too highly prized in this country to allow executive officials to imprison and hold people on the basis of information kept secret from courts. It means that Mezei should not be deprived of his liberty indefinitely except as the result of a fair open court hearing in which evidence is appraised by the court, not by the prosecutor.

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