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The Speech or Debate Clause was designed to assure a co-equal branch of the government wide freedom of speech, debate, and deliberation without intimidation or threats from the Executive Branch. It thus protects Members against prosecutions that directly impinge upon or threaten the legislative process. We have no doubt that Senator Gravel may not be made to answer—either in terms of questions or in terms of defending himself from prosecution for the events that occurred at the subcommittee meeting. Our decision is made easier by the fact that the United States appears to have abandoned whatever position it took to the contrary in the lower courts.
Even so, the United States strongly urges that because the Speech or Debate Clause confers a privilege only upon “Senators and Representatives,” Rodberg himself has no valid claim to constitutional immunity from grand jury inquiry. In our view, both courts below correctly rejected this position. We agree with the Court of Appeals that for the purpose of construing the privilege a Member and his aide are to be "treated as one,” United States v. Doe, 455 F. 2d, at 761; or, as the District Court put it: the "Speech or Debate Clause prohibits inquiry into things done by Dr. Rodberg as the Senator's agent or assistant which would have been legislative acts, and therefore privileged, if performed by the Senator personally.” United States v. Doe, 332 F. Supp., at 937–938. Both courts recognized what the Senate of the United States urgently presses here: that it is literally impossible, in view of the complexities of the modern legislative process, with Congress almost constantly in session and matters of legislative concern constantly proliferating, for Members of Congress to perform their legislative tasks without the help of aides and assistants; that the day-to-day work of such aides is so critical to the
Members' performance that they must be treated as the latter's alter egos; and that if they are not so recognized, the central role of the Speech or Debate Clause to prevent intimidation of legislators by the Executive and accountability before a possibly hostile judiciary, United States v. Johnson, 383 U. S. 169, 181 (1966)—will inevitably be diminished and frustrated.
The Court has already embraced similar views in Barr v. Matteo, 360 U. S. 564 (1959), where, in immunizing the Acting Director of the Office of Rent Stabilization from liability for an alleged libel contained in a press release, the Court held that the executive privilege recognized in prior cases could not be restricted to those of cabinet rank. As stated by Mr. Justice Harlan, the "privilege is not a badge or emolument of exalted office, but an expression of a policy designed to aid in the effective functioning of government. The complexities and magnitude of governmental activity have become so great that there must of necessity be a delegation and redelegation of authority as to many functions, and we cannot say that these functions become less important simply because they are exercised by officers of lower rank in the executive hierarchy.” Id., at 572–573 (footnote omitted).
It is true that the Clause itself mentions only "Senators and Representatives,” but prior cases have plainly not taken a literalistic approach in applying the privilege. The Clause also speaks only of “Speech or Debate,” but the Court's consistent approach has been that to confine the protection of the Speech or Debate Clause to words spoken in debate would be an unacceptably narrow view. Committee reports, resolutions, and the act of voting are equally covered; “[i]n short, things generally done in a session of the House by one of its members in relation to the business before it.” Kilbourn v. Thompson, 103 U. S. 168, 204 (1881), quoted
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with approval in United States v. Johnson, 383 U. S., at 179. Rather than giving the Clause a cramped construction, the Court has sought to implement its fundamental purpose of freeing the legislator from executive and judicial oversight that realistically threatens to control his conduct as a legislator. We have little doubt that we are neither exceeding our judicial powers nor mistakenly construing the Constitution by holding that the Speech or Debate Clause applies not only to a Member but also to his aides insofar as the conduct of the latter would be a protected legislative act if performed by the Member himself.
Nor can we agree with the United States that our conclusion is foreclosed by Kilbourn v. Thompson, supra, Dombrowski v. Eastland, 387 U. S. 82 (1967), and Powell v. McCormack, 395 U. S. 486 (1969), where the speech or debate privilege was held unavailable to certain House and committee employees. Those cases do not hold that persons other than Members of Congress are beyond the protection of the Clause when they perform or aid in the performance of legislative acts. In Kilbourn, the Speech or Debate Clause protected House Members who had adopted a resolution authorizing Kilbourn's arrest; that act was clearly legislative in nature. But the resolution was subject to judicial review insofar as its execution impinged on a citizen's rights as it did there. That the House could with impunity order an unconstitutional arrest afforded no protection for those who made the arrest. The Court quoted with approval from Stockdale v. Hansard, 9 Ad. & E. 1, 112 Eng. Rep. 1112 (K. B. 1839): “'So if the speaker by authority of the House order an illegal act, though that authority shall exempt him from question, his order shall no more justify the person who executed it than King Charles's warrant for levying ship-money could justify his reve
nue officer,'” 103 U. S., at 202.11 The Speech or Debate Clause could not be construed to immunize an illegal arrest even though directed by an immune legislative act. The Court was careful to point out that the Members themselves were not implicated in the actual arrest, id., at 200, and, significantly enough, reserved the question whether there might be circumstances in which “there may
. . be things done, in the one House or the other, of an extraordinary character, for which the members who take part in the act may be held legally responsible.” 103 U. S., at 204 (emphasis added).
Dombrowski v. Eastland, supra, is little different in principle. The Speech or Debate Clause there protected a Senator, who was also a subcommittee chairman, but not the subcommittee counsel. The record contained no evidence of the Senator's involvement in any activity that could result in liability, 387 U. S., at 84, whereas the committee counsel was charged with conspiring with state officials to carry out an illegal seizure of records that the committee sought for its own proceedings. Ibid. The committee counsel was deemed protected to
11 In Kilbourn v. Thompson, 103 U. S. 168, 198 (1881), the Court noted a second example, used by Mr. Justice Coleridge in Stockdale v. Hansard, 9 Ad. & E. 1, 225–226, 112 Eng. Rep. 1112, 1196–1197 (K. B. 1839): “'Let me suppose, by way of illustration, an extreme case; the House of Commons resolves that any one wearing a dress of a particular manufacture is guilty of a breach of privilege, and orders the arrest of such persons by the constable of the parish. An arrest is made and action brought, to which the order of the House is pleaded as a justification. . . In such a case as the one supposed, the plaintiff's counsel would insist on the distinction between power and privilege; and no lawyer can seriously doubt that it exists: but the argument confounds them, and forbids us to enquire, in any particular case, whether it ranges under the one or the other. I can find no principle which sanctions this.'»
Opinion of the Court
some extent by legislative privilege, but it did not shield him from answering as yet unproved charges of conspiring to violate the constitutional rights of private parties. Unlawful conduct of this kind the Speech or Debate Clause simply did not immunize.
Powell v. McCormack reasserted judicial power to determine the validity of legislative actions impinging on individual rights—there the illegal exclusion of a representative-elect—and to afford relief against House aides seeking to implement the invalid resolutions. The Members themselves were dismissed from the case because shielded by the Speech or Debate Clause both from liability for their illegal legislative act and from having to defend themselves with respect to it. As in Kilbourn, the Court did not reach the question "whether under the Speech or Debate Clause petitioners would be entitled to maintain this action solely against the members of Congress where no agents participated in the challenged action and no other remedy was available.” 395 U. S., at 506 n. 26.
None of these three cases adopted the simple proposition that immunity was unavailable to congressional or committee employees because they were not Representatives or Senators; rather, immunity was unavailable because they engaged in illegal conduct that was not entitled to Speech or Debate Clause protection. The three cases reflect a decidedly jaundiced view towards extending the Clause so as to privilege illegal or unconstitutional conduct beyond that essential to foreclose executive control of legislative speech or debate and associated matters such as voting and committee reports and proceedings. In Kilbourn, the Sergeant-at-Arms was executing a legislative order, the issuance of which fell within the Speech or Debate Clause; in Eastland, the committee counsel was gathering information for a hearing; and in Powell, the