My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

Text Size: Small Text Normal Text Large Text Larger Text

HYDE PARK—The Senate has voted to attach a modified jury trial amendment to the civil rights bill. The amendment will permit the judge to decide in cases of civil contempt, but will require a jury trial in cases of criminal contempt.

A civil contempt case would not require a jury trial because in such a case the judge would simply be insisting that his orders be carried out. For instance, a judge might order an election official to permit a qualified Negro to register, and could jail the official for civil contempt until he permitted the Negro to register, but as soon as the official had done so he could no longer be held in jail.

A criminal contempt case would be brought against an individual who willfully disobeyed or obstructed the purpose of a judge's order. As an example, if a judge had issued an order forbidding the intimidation of voters and somebody threatened a man who was trying to vote, that somebody would be tried for criminal contempt. As I understand it, the judge would determine what is civil and what is criminal contempt.

It seems to me that in all these discussions, our lawmakers have neglected to face the fact that we have states which make it practically impossible for a Negro to register. He may be perfectly well qualified to vote, by all ordinary standards, but no one could answer some of the questions put to him. And even if he manages to answer them correctly, a Negro's application can simply be accepted, and he is told that it must come before the election board, and there the matter rests, and he never hears of it again and goes on being an unqualified Negro voter—or, rather non-voter.

I can see why many liberals are hesitant to take any action that appears to be against trial by jury, for this has always been considered one of our greatest assets in achieving justice for the individual. Yet the whole point of the Southerners' fight for the jury trial amendment is that they know a white jury will not give Negroes the right to vote. This is just a way of escaping from having to face the quite different problem of coming out against the right of Negroes to vote, which is the right of every American citizen.

I have been asked again to bring to the attention of my readers the fact that there is a bill now in Congress (HR 8308) which will help greatly in establishing more humane methods in the slaughtering of our food animals. I hope that this bill will pass.

There has been a long controversy over the disposal of enemy property seized during the war. The President has made a statement in which he says that he will follow "the historic American policy of maintaining the sanctity of private property even in war times."

This problem involves the fate of $600 million worth of assets, primarily German but also partly Japanese, which the United States government properly seized during the war. Against this there are counterclaims for war damages and the agreements by which the Allied nations, including the U.S., "pledged themselves to retain the seized assets in lieu of reparations, and the German government undertook to compensate its nationals for such assets." Just what will be done still seems to be in doubt.

E.R.
TMs, AERP, FDRL