« AnteriorContinua »
CASE OF HON. R. C. GRIER.
March 3, 1855.–Laid upon the table and ordered to be printed.
Mr. H. B. Wright, from the Committee on the Judiciary, made the
The Committee on the Judiciary, to whom was referred the memorial of James
Baker, president of the Wheeling and Belmont Bridge Company, "preferring charges of official misconduct against the Hon. Robert Č. Grier, one of the judges of the Supreme Court of the United States," submit the following report :
The memorial of the said Baker, as the president of the “Wheeling and Belmont Bridge Company," was referred to your committee on the 13th day of July, 1854. From the nature and character of the charges, and which will be referred to hereafter, your committee were desirous that a full opportunity should be given the memorialist to sustain them. They accordingly gave notice to the Hon. Mr. Kidwell, of the House of Representatives, a few days after the memorial was committed; Mr. Kidwell had presented the memorial of Mr. Baker, and he was requested to notify Mr. Baker that the committee were ready to receive evidence, and to give him the necessary power to summon his proof. As the memorial set forth serious matters, and, if true, would be the cause of impeachment of a member of the federal court, the highest constitutional tribunal of the land, your committee were unanimously of the opinion that full and ample opportunity should be given to elicit all the facts of the case. This was due to the party accused, to enable him to vindicate himself against an aspersion upon his official character, if the charges were false, and to the community at large, should they be true. After the said notice had been given as aforesaid, as also notice to Judge Grier, nothing further wa done in committee up to the final adjournment of the first session of the present Congress.
On the re-assembling of Congress, in December last, the subject was again called up, and the notice renewed to Mr. Kidwell. On the 29th of January last, that gentleman presented to the House, and which were referred to your committee, charges and specifications in form, and embodying in substance, the matters set forth in the memorial. Mr. Baker did not appear before your committee, nor any one in his behalf, to prosecute the matter; and, with the exception of two ex parte affidavits, no proof of any kind was submitted. As the accused was not present at the taking of this evidence, if evidence is
can be called, your committee would not have received it; but, as the facts therein set forth do not amount to a cause even of suspicion, they are herewith presented as a part of this report. As the charges and specifications accompany this report, your committee do not deem it of importance to refer to them in detail, only so far as the two affidavits have a bearing upon the particular facts to which the witnesses allude. The charges and specifications are not subscribed by any person, but it was thought proper to treat them as the pleadings in the case, although materially informal in this particular.
There is but one of the specifications under the general charges to which your committee deem is of any importance to refer—that is, the only one which is attempted to be sustained by proof of any character, and that is ex parte altogether. Under this specification, which is the first one under the first charge, it is set forth that a suit had been pending in the Supreme Court of the United States, wherein - The State of Pennsylvania” was plaintiff, and “The Wheeling and Belmont Bridge Company" defendant; that the object of this suit was to abate, by means of a decree of the said court, a wire suspension bridge erected by the said company; that in August, 1849, an application was made to Mr. Justice Grier, at his chambers in Philadelphia, for an injunction to restrain and prevent the said company from the further erection of the said bridge; and that after hearing the parties, and before deciding upon the application, he privately advised the president and secretary of the said company to employ bribery as a means of settling or putting an end to that litigation.
A charge of this character, one imputing the most corrupt motives on the part of a person holding one of the highest positions under the government, and that given under the sanction of the name of an individual who, from his position, should convey verity, demanded at least an inquiry; nay, a close scrutiny, and most thorough investigation. If there be any one thing in which the public at large have a vital interest, it is in the purity of the judicial bench, and the accusation of the gross crime of bribery against an officer of the highest court known to the laws of the country is startling in its character.
And how is this charge of a high misdemeanor sustained by the president of the “Wheeling and Belmont Bridge Company?”. We have before us the ex parte affidavits of James Baker, the president of the company, and Edward H. Fitzhugh, the secretary.
These witnesses say that they were in the city of Philadelphia, in August, 1849, as the agents of the bridge company, attending to the motion for an injunction, then pending before Mr. Justice Grier; that after the conclusion of the argument by the counsel, Judge Grier, as he was leaving the court room, passed the two witnesses, and, in the language of Fitzhugh, said, “your people had better settle the case in some way," and that witness asked him “bow?" The judge replied, "adopt the plan used to procure the charter of the United States bank at Harrisburg,” or words to that effect. Witness asked him what that plan was. Judge Grier, or Baker, witness does not recollect which, said the pillow argument. The witness' impression is that the said Baker used the expression, and that it was assented to by the said Grier. They then separated. From the character of the communica
tion, the witness at the time "took it for granted that Judge Grier spoke in jest.” This is the material part of the affidavit. The deposition of James Baker is, in substance, the same as that of Edward H. Fitzhugh, with the exception that he does not say whether he regarded the expression of Judge Grier as made in earnest or in jest.
This evidence is all that is submitted to your committee as proof of the charge of bribery, or any other matter set forth. An idle remark made by the judge, in passing the agents of one of the parties, in open court, as he was leaving the room. It is indeed most strange that so small and so trivial a matter could ever have been the foundation of a serious charge. There is nothing in the remark, if he made it at all, which could, by the remotest implication, lead a man of sense to suppose that he held out the idea that his decision would be effected by a bribe. There are none of those circumstances surrounding it which would lead the mind of an unbiassed man to come to such a conclusion. To whom the United States bank argument was to be used we are uninformed; and whether that was a money argument or not, is accordcording to the “ impression" of Mr. Fitzhugh, the language of the president of the company, ard not the language of Mr. Justice Grier. As the matter of detail, the price, the manner of payment, the subsequent ratification of the contract, never occurred, your committee are at a loss to know in what language to censure an effort designed to do a public man an injury on such a pretence.
We cannot but regard it as the result of embittered feelings and a spirit of deep malevolence. What reason had the president of the company to suppose that Judge Grier even intimated to him that his opinion could be had for money? Although he does not state, in the same spirit of candor that Mr. Fitzhugh does, that he “TOOK IT FOR GRANTED THAT JUDGE GRIER SPOKE IN JEST,” could he suppose that he was in earnest? Did he believe, that when the judge, in a jocular way, told him that if he could not settle the cause in any other way, "to use the arguments made in the case of the United States bank," that it was a bid for a judicial decree? That it was a hint that money would effect what he desired ? Certainly not. There was no forced construction, in our opinion, which could have led him to such a belief. He did not pursue it, and nothing ever occurred between him and Judge Grier on this subject, except the conversation in the court room.
The pillow argument he explains, in his affidavit, as a reported bribe to a member of the legislature of Pennsylvania, at the time of the passage of the United States bank bill.
And this is the testimony upon which we are gravely asked to prefer articles of impeachment against a judge of the federal court. him upon his trial for seeking a bribe at the hands of one of the parties litigant. We can scarcely conceive of a more unfounded pretence. If the object of it was to impair the character and reputation of a distinguished man, it has most signally failed. A charge of the character imputed to Judge Grier, from such a source, might be well calculated lo alarmı him, and create a distrust in the public mind as to the purity of our judicial tribunals. It is well for him, and the public, that the evidence is laid before them upon which such a charge is made. A public memorial, subscribed by a person in a high position, the presi
dent of an incorporated company, and presented to Congress, was conclusive of the fact that there was about to be an effort to disclose a base transaction, or to do an innocent man a most wanton injury. The president of the company must have known his proof, and when he charged fraud and corruption of so grave a character, resting upon proof which he knew, we cannot come to any other conclusion than that it was done cither without due reflection, or for the express purpose of doing Judge Grier a private wrong.
It did not require a legal knowledge on the part of the president of the company to inform bim that a conversation between him and Judge Grier, in a public court room, and of the precise character of wbich be speaks, had the slightest intimation of bribery. Nor did it require the opinion of counsel. It was plain, it was evident. It is true that Mr. Baker says this was done “prirately.” How? Where? It was in the court room, and although no one might have been listening to the conversation, still it was in a public place, and within hearing of those who were present. But it is entirely a waste of time to attempt to explain away that which has neither substance nor the shadow even of substance, and we refer particularly to the affidavits of the two persons hereto attached, as the best possible proof of the wantonness of the charges.
There are various other charges against Judge Grier. That because he was a resident of Pittsburg, where those resided who had been instrumental in the origin of the suit, he had a “strong bias in his mind in faror of the plaintiffs,” and being conscious of this, had proposed to Mr. Justice Daniels “to pair off with him on the argument of the cause in banc,” Mr. Justice Daniels being a resident of Virginia. That “he improperly made known the result of a conference,” (of the judges,) " X certain citizens of the State of Pennsylvania, several days before the decree was rendered, or the opinion of the court delivered;" that “be had used arguments, representations and persuasions to divers members of Congress, to defeat the passage of a bill before Congress, designed to legalize the said bridge.”
Under the second and third charges the specifications refer to those matters which were the proper subject of reriew before the Supreme Court in banc, and of which your committee nor Congress have jurisdiction by way of collateral complaint. It would not seem, however, that he committed an error in this particular, as his opinion and decree in the case was confirmed on an appeal.
In conclusion of this most remarkable case, your committee cannot come to any other opinion than that there is not "the least particle prouf" under the facts of the case, to suppose that Judge Grier advanced the idea of a bribe to the president of the “Wheeling and Belmont Bridge Company.” They think there is no inference even by which such a conclusion may be drawn. If it were true that be paired • off with Judge Daniels, he did precisely what he should have done under the circumstances. If he used arguments with members of Congress upon legitimate subjects of legislation, or communicated the secrets of his brethren in conference, we are safe in the opinion that be is not thus made liable for impeachment.
But it is unnecessary to pursue the subject further. In the opinion of your committee, Judge Grier is entirely and absolutely exonerated
and freed from the charges preferred against him. There is absolutely nothing which can or will impair his reputation as a judge or an upright and honest man.
The evidence did not warrant the charge, and that bias which is attempted to be fastened upon him has a more fitting place with the author of the prosecution. It can be called by no other name. The reputation of Judge Grier, in his own State and the Union, would have protected him from injury without the endorsement of your committee; but they felt a satisfaction and pleasure in sustaining him from an unjust and unwarrantable imputation. And in this they have no more than faithfully discharged their duty.
HENDRICK B. WRIGHT,
WHEELING, VA., July 18, 1854. Dear Sir: I have observed by the newspapers that a memorial of the Wheeling Bridge Company, containing charges which they have preferred against Judge Grier, has been referred to your committee.
I am a director of the bridge company, and think it proper to say to you, that an investigation will exhibit evidences of corruption and collusion with one of the parties in the Supreme Court, which are not alluded to in that petition.
From the outset to the close of that case, corruption and carelessness have, in fact, marked its history.
An investigation will prove these facts:
I. The defendants were deprived of a trial by jury, and their rights were referred by the court to a single commissioner.
II. The commissioner selected was the intimate personal friend of one of the Pittsburg counsel in the case.
III. This commissioner, thus selected, was authorized to appoint an engineer to aid him in bis investigations; and chose for this purpose the brother-in-law of the Pittsburg counsel in the case.
IV. The commissioner, in drawing up his report, sought or accepted the aid of one of the counsel for the prosecution, who ihus assisted in establishing the tone and character of the report.
V. The court then, as they state in their opinion, accepted the report of this commissioner, (which was, in fact, nothing more than the report of the Pittsburg counsel, who conducted the prosecution,) as “entitled to the full weight of a verdict."
VI. The assistant counsel, after having thus drawn up the commissioner's report—the verdict in the case—went to Washington, and informed himself of the progress of the cause in the hands of the judges.
VII. The result was communicated to him, or to his principal, nearly two weeks before it was known to the defendants; and he then set out, armed with this secret information, for Harrisburgh, and used it very effectually there in lobbying to defeat the bill then pending before the legislature of Pennsylvania, on the dismissal of the suit, as having been commenced in error and unworthy to be prosecuted by the Slate.