star chamber proceedings
n. any judicial or quasi-judicial action, trial or hearing which so grossly violates standards of "due process" that a party appearing in the proceedings (hearing or trial) is denied a fair hearing. The term comes from a large room with a ceiling decorated with stars in which secret hearings of the privy council and judges met to determine punishment for disobedience of the proclamations of King Henry VIII of Great Britain (1509-1547). The high-handed, unfair, predetermined judgments, which sent the accused to the Tower of London or to the chopping block, made "star chamber" synonymous with unfairness and illegality from the bench. In modern American history the best example of star chamber proceedings was the conduct of the House Un-American Activities Committee (1938-1975), which used its subpena power to intimidate citizens by asking them unconstitutional questions about their political beliefs and associations, and then charging them with contempt of Congress for refusing to answer. Another example was the conduct of criminal proceedings against black defendants in some southern states from 1876 until the late 1960s.