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Supreme Court: Labor leaders guilty of civil contempt only

WASHINGTON, May 15, 1911 (UP) -- Holding that the imposition of jail sentences on Samuel Gompers, John Mitchell and Frank Morrison, president, vice-president, and secretary, respectively, of the American Federation of Labor was unwarranted by the nature of the contempt, and that the District Supreme Court should only have imposed a fine, the Supreme Court of the United States to-day freed the labor leaders and directed that the cases against them be dismissed.

The decision was that the case was one purely of civil contempt and only punishable by fines and that since it was established that the Bucks Stove & Range Company had patched up its differences with the American Federation of Labor, that the case should be dismissed outright.

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When the decision was handed down Samuel Gompers was on a train between Philadelphia and Baltimore, en route to Washington from New York.

The decision of the highest court was one of the greatest victories ever won by labor in this country. Because it involved the imprisonment of three of the foremost leaders, it was looked upon by union men as marking the turning point in the fight of unionism in America.

The tribunal held that when Gompers, Mitchell and Morrison disobeyed the mandate of the District of Columbia Supreme Court and continued the boycott against the Bucks Stove & Range Company they were guilty only of civil contempt and they should have been punished by a fine, paid to the stove company - a fine measured by the wrong done the complainants.

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This construction reversed the decision of the lower courts which had held the contempt a criminal one, punishable by imprisonment. It adjudged that Gompers should serve one year in jail, Mitchell nine months and Morison six months.

Justice Lamar read the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States. He held that Justice Wright should have imposed a fine. But he contended, if the two parties to the controversy had settled their differences in the original cause of action there could be no question now of a fine to be paid them by the labor leaders. The case was ordered remanded to the lower court with instructions to dismiss it.

There was no dissenting opinion in the case, the decision being acquiesced in by all nine members of the court.

Justice Lamar's opinion was an exhaustive study of the whole controversy. Much of it was a technical legal analysis of the classifications of contempt.

"The court of appeals," he said, "held that this contempt case was not a part of the main case between the American Federation of Labor and the Bucks company and yet the three defendants were called as witnesses and made to testify against themselves, which would not have been the case if the controversy were separate. It is a purely civil case. The only relief was the imposition of a fine, payable by the three defendants to the Bucks Stove & Range Company. There was a fatal variance with the procedure when the court imposed a jail sentence. It was fundamentally erroneous."

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Secretary Morrison of the American Federation danced with glee when informed of the decision.

"We are naturally elated that the Supreme Court has supported us, although we felt all along they could do nothing else," he said. "We have always contended that Justice Wright's decision was wrong. Now I am going home to eat, and I expect to enjoy my meal."

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