Vanderbilt Law Review


Martin Shapiro

First Page



The Supreme Court has long claimed the power to exercise judicial review over the investigatory activities of Congress. The most severe limitation the Court has imposed is the requirement of legislative purpose. Investigations must be conducted for the purpose of aiding Congress in making the laws. But the Court has also introduced the doctrine of presumption of legislative purpose. The Justices will presume that the investigating committee and the Congress which authorized it had a legislative purpose in pursuing the inquiry. It will be argued here that these two doctrines are completely inter-dependent; once legislative purpose was required, presumption was bound to follow. It will also be argued that the two taken together are so in conflict with political reality that they cut the Court off from any effective supervision of actual investigative practice. Therefore, a new approach is suggested which would abandon the purpose and presumption doctrines in favor of a judicial acknowledgment of the real purposes and functions of congressional inquiries. Such an approach would allow the Supreme Court to regain contact with the practical world of politics and thus permit it to impose more than theoretical constitutional limitations on investigations, particularly on those which infringe upon first amendment freedoms.