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Debate in Earnest

After seven weeks on courtly dawdling, the Senate appears ready to work seriously on the Civil Rights bill. Sen. Hubert Humphrey indicated the long pause was over when he changed his description of the Southern oratory from extended debate to filibuster. But it was a Southerner, Sen. Herman Talmadge, who ended the preliminaries with amendments designed to guarantee jury trials for all cases of criminal contempt arising from the bill.

In response to the Talmadge amendment, Senate leaders Mansfield and Dirksen have prepared a substitute. Their measure reportedly will allow the judge to grant or deny jury trial on criminal contempt charges; however, a person convicted without a jury could not be fined more than $300 or imprisoned for more than 30 days.

The Manfield-Dirksen amendment does weaken the enforcement mechanism of the bill, but it should satisfy Senators who felt the House bill, with its denial of jury trial, might be unconstitutional.

Another amendment, offered by Sen. Leverett Saltonstall, also seems to offer no serious threat to the House bill. Sen. Saltonstall proposes to give more opportunity for voluntary compliance with the provisions of the public accommodations title before the Attorney General files suit on complaints. The measure sets a 90-day waiting period between the time the complaint is filed and a suit can be brought. The House bill only requests a "reasonable" period of time.

Sen. Dirksen has given warning that future Republican amendments will not be so mild. While most of his proposed amendments to the fair employment title either improve or at least do not detract from the House bill, one may spark a difficult struggle. Sen. Dirksen intends to ask that the burden of prosecuting violations under the title be put on individuals and state agencies rather than on the Federal government. A complaint would have to be made first to the state agency, which would be allowed 90 days to act. Only then could the proposed Federal Commission be brought into the case; if it were not able to end the alleged discrimination by persuasion, then the individual, not the commission, would be able to bring suit.

Should this amendment pass, the fair employment title would be rendered meaningless for large numbers of Negroes. The provision for state agencies is an invitation to Southern states to devise new, pseudo-legal methods of suppressing their Negro population. The requirement of individual action is totally unrealistic. A man denied a job because of racial discimination is unlikely to be able to figure out the complexities of the law. And CORE can only prosecute a limited number of cases for victimized Negroes.

The other Dirksen amendments published thus far, and the Saltonstall and Mansfield-Dirksen proposals, seem safe to incorporate into the Bill. However, Sen. Humphrey should accept them only if he can buy cloture votes with their passage. A summer-long of "extended debate" would be disastrous.

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