Exchange of Memorandums
by James V. Bennett and Warden Johnston
Regarding Walker vs. Johnston




January 16, 1941

Mr. James A. Johnston
United States Penitentiary
Alcatraz, California

Re: Jack Walker

My dear Warden Johnston:

I was present in the Supreme Court yesterday when they argued your case. It was an extremely interesting argument and it is quite apparent that the court was in a good deal of quandary as to how it should be handled. They asked a great many questions of counsel and evidently recognized the problems involved.

There was no criticism of the institution during the argument except that Mr. Wyzanski, who represented Walker, tried to indicate that Walker had been denied right to counsel even when it involved himself who was appointed by the Supreme Court. He tried to show this by waiving a letter before the court on which the word "censored" was marked and stating that even correspondence with him was not free and frank.

I am sending you copies of the briefs in this case in which I am sure you will be interested. Incidentally, I think it is splendid evidence of the democratic and legal way in which we are doing things when a man like Walker can get to the Supreme Court of the United States, have representation by the finest possible counsel and occupy the time of the court more than two hours. I believe you know that Mr. Wyzanski was formerly the Assistant Solicitor for the Department of Labor and a former Special Assistant to the Attorney General, and has argued a number of important cases including the Social Security and Old Age Pension Cases, some important Labor Relations Board cases and others.

Sincerely yours,

(signed)James V. Bennett


January 23, 1941

Director, Bureau of Prisons

WALKER, Jack 329-Az

Thank you for sending me the copy of the brief for the respondent in the case of Jack Walker, Defendant, vs. James A. Johnston, Warden on Writ of Certiorari to the U.S. Circuit of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

I agree with you that this is just another evidence of the democratic and legal way in which the people of our country, no matter what their situation, including the inmates of our institutions, are afforded every opportunity to assert and to exhaust their legal rights and to have conscientious and capable counsel to represent them in the Supreme Court.

At this institution we have never placed any obstacles in the way of a man's getting his case in Court and as a matter of fact we give a great many of them a good deal of help in a clerical way in the typing of their papers and getting in good order for consideration. We do not like to see any trifling and abuse and we do not like to see the repetition of petitions by men who like to take trips to the Courts because there are risks involved. Of course, the trips are unnecessary in many cases when the Courts may properly decide without the presence of the petitioner. However, that is a matter to be left to the Courts.

I note what you say about Mr. Wyzanski who represented Jack Walker apparently trying to indicate that Walker had been denied right to counsel even when it involved himself who was appointed by the Supreme Court. Of course there was nothing of the kind and the mere waiving before the court the letter on which the word "Censored" was marked to indicate that correspondence with him was not free and frank may be regarded as a gesture.

[page 2]

If it were appropriate and important and the Court desired to be enlightened, it might be well to pass on the information that the world "Censored" as used on such a letter means "Inspected". While inspection and censoring of prisoners' mail is necessary to safeguard the institution, it is, likewise, in a certain sense for the protection of a prisoner who has proper mail and documents in his possession and in his cell bearing the official stamp to indicate that it is proper and that he has received it in accordance with regulations.

J.A. Johnston

Click here to View the Court's Decision

[NARA-SAN BRUNO:RG-129:329-Az]