1954 August 20

Compelled Testimony: President Eisenhower Signs Bill to Limit Fifth Amendment


President Eisenhower on this day signed into law a bill that would compel witnesses in federal investigations to give testimony in return for immunity from prosecution. The law was a product of the controversy that erupted in 1954 over the many witnesses, most of them alleged Communists or “subversives,” who claimed Fifth Amendment protection against testifying about the political beliefs and associations before HUAC and other legislative investigating bodies.

As part of the controversy in 1954, Erwin Griswold, the dean of Harvard Law School, felt compelled to speak out and write a short book in defense of the ancient privilege of protection against self-incrimination. See February 5, 1954. For an example of a teacher being fired for taking the Fifth, see April 30, 1954.

Read Dean Griswold’s book: Erwin N. Griswold, The 5th Amendment Today: Three Speeches (1955)

Learn more: Leonard Levy, Origins of the Fifth Amendment: The Right Against Self-incrimination (1968)

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