CITES BY TOPIC:  procedural due process

Shaughnessy v. Mezel, 345 U.S. 206 (1953)


Procedural fairness, if not all that originally was meant by due process of law, is at least what it most uncompromisingly requires. Procedural due process is more elemental and less flexible than substantive due process. It yields less to the times, varies less with conditions, and defers much less to legislative judgment. Insofar as it is technical law, it must be a specialized responsibility within the competence of the judiciary on which they do not bend before political branches of the Government, as they should on matters of policy which comprise substantive law.

If it be conceded that in some way this alien could be confined, does it matter what the procedure is? Only the untaught layman or the charlatan lawyer can answer that procedures matter not. Procedural fairness and regularity are of the indispensable essence of liberty. Severe substantive laws can be endured if they are fairly and impartially applied. Indeed, if put to the choice, one might well prefer to live under Soviet substantive law applied in good faith by our common-law procedures than under our substantive law enforced by Soviet procedural practices. Let it not be overlooked that due process of law is not for the sole benefit of an accused. It is the best insurance for the Government itself against those [345 U.S. 206, 225]   blunders which leave lasting stains on a system of justice but which are bound to occur on ex parte consideration. Cf. Knauff v. Shaughnessy, 338 U.S. 537 , which was a near miss, saved by further administrative and congressional hearings from perpetrating an injustice. See Knauff, The Ellen Knauff Story (New York 1952).

Our law may, and rightly does, place more restrictions on the alien than on the citizen. But basic fairness in hearing procedures does not vary with the status of the accused. If the procedures used to judge this alien are fair and just, no good reason can be given why they should not be extended to simplify the condemnation of citizens. If they would be unfair to citizens, we cannot defend the fairness of them when applied to the more helpless and handicapped alien. This is at the root of our holdings that the resident alien must be given a fair hearing to test an official claim that he is one of a deportable class. Wong Yang Sung v. McGrath, 339 U.S. 33 .

The most scrupulous observance of due process, including the right to know a charge, to be confronted with the accuser, to cross-examine informers and to produce evidence in one's behalf, is especially necessary where the occasion of detention is fear of future misconduct, rather than crimes committed. Both the old proceeding by which one may be bound to keep the peace and the newer British "preventive detention" are safeguarded with full rights to judicial hearings for the accused. On the contrary, the Nazi regime in Germany installed a system of "protective custody" by which the arrested could claim no judicial or other hearing process, 8 and as a result the concentration [345 U.S. 206, 226]   camps were populated with victims of summary executive detention for secret reasons. That is what renders Communist justice such a travesty. There are other differences, to be sure, between authoritarian procedure and common law, but differences in the process of administration make all the difference between a reign of terror and one of law. Quite unconsciously, I am sure, the Government's theory of custody for "safekeeping" without disclosure to the victim of charges, evidence, informers or reasons, even in an administrative proceeding, has unmistakable overtones of the "protective custody" of the Nazis more than of any detaining procedure known to the common law. Such a practice, once established with the best of intentions, will drift into oppression of the disadvantaged in this country as surely as it has elsewhere. That these apprehensive surmises are not "such stuff as dreams are made on" appears from testimony of a top immigration official concerning an applicant that "He has no rights."

[Shaughnessy v. Mezel, 345 U.S. 206 (1953)]