National Affairs: Close Call on Contempt

By weight of precedent, few principles in U.S. law should be better settled than the right of federal judges to enforce their orders and judgments by criminal-contempt penalties, assessed without juries. Yet last week the Supreme Court itself came perilously close to denuding the judiciary of its summary criminal-contempt powers. In 1789 the First Congress, following common-law practice, specifically granted federal courts the power "to punish by fine or imprisonment, at the discretion of said courts, all contempts of authority in any cause or hearing before the same." In 1890 the Supreme Court...

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