JULY 17, 1957
NEW YORK—Many people, including the President, have been thinking about what amendments to the civil rights bill could be accepted which would not actually so weaken the bill that it would have no real value.
As you would expect, before one even knows what will be in the final bill, Representative Adam Clayton Powell is claiming that for the first time a real civil rights bill will be achieved and that this is what the President promised him on October 11, 1956. So the advance, if there is any, will be due, according to Mr. Powell, to President Eisenhower and the Republicans and this will ensure Mr. Nixon's victory in 1960.
This reasoning is amusing, for the Republicans alone cannot pass the bill any more than the Democrats could do it without some Republican support. So, Mr. Powell had better trim his sails a little and give some credit to the Democrats if the bill passes without weakening amendments.
I think all of us should refresh our minds as to the main provisions of the bill as it is presented. First of all, it will establish a special civil rights division within the Department of Justice. Next, it will create a Federal Civil Rights Commission. This commission will have the power of subpoena and will therefore be able to compel people to testify and to produce their records. With these powers, the commission would attempt to prevent and correct any instances where there had been racial discrimination which was illegal.
Finally, it gives authority to the Department of Justice to intervene—in the name of the United States—if it discovers any instances of actual or threatened violations of civil rights, either as regards an individual or a group. Neither the individual or the group has to consent to this intervention. If the Department of Justice decided that people had been kept from voting by illegal methods or that children were not being allowed to go to an integrated school under the Supreme Court decision, the Department of Justice could move to obtain injunctions from Federal District Judges to prevent either actual violations or threatened ones.
This would mean that federal prosecutors could take action even when local machinery did not function and anyone disobeying these injunctions could be fined or imprisoned for contempt by a Federal Judge without a jury trial. No jury in the South has ever been willing to convict a white man for violations such as would probably come up under this bill and that is why it is important not to insist on a jury trial in such cases.
Senator Richard B. Russell (D., Ga.) has interpreted this bill in a way which made it appear that the government had not been entirely honest in the way the bill was drawn and that there were possibilities contained in certain clauses which were very dangerous. I doubt, however, if anyone really reading the bill carefully could be fooled either as to the intentions or the powers granted to the Federal Government.