The Effect of Proposed Jury Trial In Contempt Cases

Performed by William H. Taft
Recorded August 5, 1908

Under the provision of the Democratic platform promising a jury trial in all cases of indirect contempt, a recalcitrant witness who refuses to obey a subpoena may insist on a jury trial before the court can determine that he received the subpoena. A citizen summoned as a juror, and refusing to obey the writ when brought into court, must be tried by another jury to determine whether he got the summons. Such a provision applies not alone to injunction, but to every order which the court issues against perjury. A suit may be tried in the court of first instance and carried to the court of appeals and then to the Supreme Court. Then if the decree involves the defendant doing anything or not doing anything, and he disobeys it, the plaintiff who has pursued his remedies in lawful court for years must, to secure his rights, undergo the uncertainties and the delays of a jury trial before he can enjoy that which is his right of the decision of the highest court of the land. I say without hesitation that such a change will greatly impair the indispensable power and authority of the court. In securing to the public the benefits of the new statute, and acted in the present administration, the ultimate instrumentality to be resorted to is the courts of the United States. If now their authority is thus to be weakened, how can we expect that such statutes will have efficient enforcement. If advocates seem to suppose that this change in someway will inure only to the benefit of the poor working man. As a matter of fact the person who will secure chief advantage from it is the wealthy and unscrupulous defendant able to employ astute and cunning council and anxious to avoid justice. The maintenance of the authority of the court is essential unless we are prepared to embrace anarchy. Never in the history of the country has there been such an insidious attack upon the judicial system as the proposal to interject the jury trial between all orders of the court made after full hearing and the enforcement of such order.