A virtually one-man "war of attrition" to abolish the House Un-American Activities Committee is being waged from an office at Harvard. The one man is Vern Countryman, professor of Law.
His latest attempt is a letter, sent to all members of the House of Representatives and co-signed by eighty-nine other law professors (six from Harvard), calling for Congressional hearings to decide whether HUAC should be given its annual appropriation.
Countryman is chairman of the National Committee to Abolish HUAC, but the five letters and one petition he has written attacking HUAC in the past year were on his own initiative,. independent of his national committee, he said yesterday.
"Whenever an appropriate occasion arises to speak out against HUAC, I do so," Countryman explained. "It's a war of attrition. When the battle started, there was one Congressman with us; now there are ninety."
His current letter charges the Committee with violating its own rules, the rules of the House, and the U.S. Constitution. It further contends that the 1948 Congressional resolution that authorized HUAC is a violation of the First Amendment.
For these reasons, the letter asks the Committee on House Administration -- which is meeting this week -- to hold hearings on the HUAC appropriation request. He considers the prospects for such hearings "unlikely," because there is no precedent for the investigation of one House Committee by another.
In the fall, Countryman circulated throughout the University a petition calling for HUAC's abolition and sent copies to all 435 U.S. Representatives.
The first letter in his "war" condemned the Committee's contempt proceedings against Arthur Stamler, a noted Chicago cardiologist. The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago has convened a three-judge district court to hear Stamler's constitutional arguments against HUAC.
Countryman has already received a reply to the latest letter. Rep. Samuel N. Friedel (D.-Md.), chairman of the Sub-Committee on Accounts of the House Administration Committee, reported that his committee cut $50,000 from HUAC's original $400,000 request. Friedel gave no indication, however, that the cut was motivated by Countryman's letter.