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The Civil Rights Act of 1963

Brass Tacks

By Curtis Hessler

To Senator Richard Russell of Georgia, the Civil Rights Act of 1963 means "the beginning of the end of Constitutional government." To Senator Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota, the Act represents "both our finest hour and our only chance." To the casually interested citizen, however, the Act is fifty-five pages of abstruse legalisms and absurd definitions ("'Employee' means an individual employed by an employer"). Outside the Congress, this proposal, like most great issues, is more intensely debated than studied. Careful study might change no one's mind, but it would make for a more interesting and erudite debate.

The Act came to the Senate from the House, which received it from the Judiciary Committee, which constructed it by fusing President Kennedy's moderate bill with the more ambitious ideas of Congressmen Kastenmeier, Celler, and McCulloch. It consists of eleven Titles, treating voting, education, accomodations, and employment. Titles II and VII have aroused the most controversy, but advocates and opponents agree that few of the Titles can be called minor. The most important Titles are:

Title I--Voting Rights: Extending and amending the Act of 1960, this section attempts to end discrimination in voter registration for Federal elections. It declares that no person may be disqualified from voting simply for making inconsequential errors or omissions on his application for registration. All literacy tests must be in writing, unless the applicant prefers an oral examination, and a copy of test must be furnished the applicant upon request. Furthermore, if the applicant has completed the sixth grade, it must be "presumed" that he is literate.

Besides establishing new standards, this Title prescribes strict procedures for courts which handle voting cases. The 1960 Act directed U.S. District Judges to appoint voting referees to registration centers where discrimination could be proved. Unfortunately, most District Judges in the South are segregationists, and voting cases have been delayed for as long as two years without action. The present Act provides the victim of discrimination a three-judge court, to be named by the Chief Judge of the Circuit, Since much of the South falls within the Fifth Circuit, presided over by integrationist Judge Tattle, this provision would greatly speed Negro registration.

Title II--Public Accommodations: The most hotly disputed portion of the Act, this Title would open to the Negro many businesses catering to the public. Specifically included are restaurants, theaters, motels and hotels. Excluded are rooming houses which the owner occupies and which contain less than five rentable rooms; "bona fide private clubs" also go untouched. The Act designates two criteria for determining which establishments are involved. First, the Title invokes the interstate commerce clause of the Constitution to cover any business which either serves interstate travelers or sells a "subtantial" amount of produce which has previously crossed state lines.

Secondly and rather ambiguously, the Title cites the Fourteenth Amendment to outlaw any discrimination "enforced or supported by state action." The Supreme Court ruled in 1883 that this Amendment does not treat "private affairs," and it is doubtful that the Court would reverse itself. The commerce clause, however, provides sufficient legal grounds and its use will probably be upheld in court.

Another controversial passage allows the Attorney General to file a suit for breach of this Title on behalf of the victim of discrimination. Southerners abhor such use of Federal power, while advocates of the Act claim many Negroes would be intimidated economically and physically if they sued on their own. The Title outlaws such intimidation, authorizing the Attorney General to seek an injunction against it.

Title III--Powers of the Attorney General: This section permits the Attorney General to file suit on behalf of a person denied access, on grounds of race, to any "publicly owned" facility, such as a public playground. The Attorney General would also have the right to in tervene in an already filed suit involving any breach, on account of race, of the "equal protection" clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Title IV--Desegregation of Education: In this Act, desegregation means "assignment to schools without regard to race;" Problems of racial imbalance are not treated. The Title authorizes the Attorney General to file desegregation suits if he finds the victim of discrimination unable to do so for financial or social reasons.

Title VI--Withdrawal of Funds: This section would prohibit racial discrimination in any project partially or wholly financed by the Federal government. Each Federal agency would be authorized, with the President's permission, to withdraw funds from states, cities, or firms which discriminate. The victim of the with-drawal could file suit in district court against the action.

Title VII--Employment: This Title prohibits discrimination on account of race, religion, or sex by employers or labor unions with over twenty-five employees or members. "Bona fide private clubs" and tax-exempt religious organizations are excluded. The Act also establishes an Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, which would investigate hiring and promotion practices throughout the country, serve as a mediator in informal negotiations between Negro groups and employers, and have the right to file suit against anyone infringing this Title. It would be up to the court to enjoin the employer or union and to decide whether back pay ought to be awarded. Senator Dirkson has proposed several amendments to the Title, the strongest of which would deprive the Commission of its right to file suit.

Title IX--Appeals: Of great concern to civil rights demonstrators, this section permits appeal to a higher Federal court of any "Constitutional rights case" that has been remanded from district court to state court. This provision would free many "parading without a permit" cases from hostile local courts in the South.

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