The U.S. Attorney's office reopened the long-dormant civil contempt case of Samuel L. Popkin, assistant professor of Government, on Friday by filing a disclaimer of electronic cavesdropping with the First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The government's action follows a July 13 ruling by the Appeals Court that a disclaimer would have to be filed by the Justice Department before the case could progress any further.
Popkin has been battling since May 3 the latest in a series of contempt citations, appeals and reversals for his refusal to answer certain questions before a Boston grand jury investigating the leaking of the Pentagon Papers to the press. The May 3 ruling by the Appeals Court found Popkin in contempt on three counts and reversed the remaining four counts found by Federal District Court Judge W. Arthur Garrity.
The filing of the disclaimer will prompt the rewriting of the May 3 decision in light of the recent Supreme Court rulings relating to press freedom, William P. Homans '41, an attorney for Popkin, said yesterday.
"The earlier court decision said that relevance was of no consequence or very little consequence," Homans said. But in light of the June 28 Supreme Court decision in Branzburg vs. Hayes, which stressed the importance of relevance in grand jury inquiries, that point may take on much more importance, he added.
Depending on whom the Appeals Court favors in its new opinion, either the government or Popkin may petition to have the case heard before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Homans declined to predict the Circult Court's new opinion, noting that "there are so many sub-issues involved." He said, however, that he was optimistic that "we're on the same side as the U.S. Supreme Court."
Popkin, whose field of specialty is Vietnam, has contended repeatedly that in publicizing his academic findings he fills a role analogous to that of a newsman. He has said that any requirement to answer questions with a "remote and tenuous relationship to the investigation" would have a "chilling effect" on the cooperation of his sources and thus violate his First Amendment rights to free speech and free press.