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CHAPTER VIII. ENFORCEMENT: THE CIVIL RIGHTS DIVISION
Seeking to provide for a more effective enforcement of Federal civil rights statutes, the Congress in the Civil Rights Act of 1957 authorized appointment of an additional Assistant Attorney General. As anticipated, the new assistant was placed in charge of a new Civil Rights Division, which the Department of Justice organized in December 1957 to replace the Civil Rights Section of its Criminal Division. The new Division's jurisdiction includes
(1) the "civil rights" statutes, 18 U.S.C. 241, 242, 243, and 244; (2) the Civil Rights Act of 1957;
(3) statutes relating to extortion and threats, obstruction of justice, peonage and slavery, misuse of search warrants, shanghaiing of sailors, merchant seamen, the escape and rescue of prisoners;
(4) statutes relating to election frauds, interference with the right to vote, the Hatch Act and Corrupt Practices Act.14 The Civil Rights Division
has responsibility for all legal and administrative questions and problems with respect to the application and construction of the Probation Act, the parole statutes, the Juvenile Delinquency Act, and the sentencing provisions of the Youth Corrections Act. The Division also has cognizance over all matters involving habeas corpus and the handling of problems relating to mentally defective defendants temporarily committed pending recovery."
In addition, the Division maintains liaison with State law enforcement agencies to promote Federal-State cooperation as well as State action in the civil rights field, and collects factual information on civil rights developments.3
In the first half of fiscal 1958, the old Civil Rights Section of the Criminal Division received 712 new matters; during the second half of that year, the Civil Rights Division received 887 new complaints and cases.*
The Civil Rights Division is divided into three sections: Appeals and Research, General Litigation, and Voting and Elections.
1 The Truman Committee recommended nine years earlier that the Civil Rights Section be elevated to full division status under the supervision of an Assistant Attorney General in order to give the federal civil rights enforcement program greater prestige, power, and efficiency. (To Secure These Rights, Report of the President's Committee on Civil Rights, 1947, pp. 151–153.
14 Hearings before the Subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations, Department of Justice, House of Representatives, 86th Cong., 1st sess., 1959, pp. 191-194.
Id., p. 192.
The Appeals and Research Section is responsible for all preparations, pleadings and oral arguments in connection with cases appealed to the circuit courts and makes recommendations regarding appeal action to the Solicitor General. The Section is also responsible for Civil Rights Division cases in the Supreme Court, making recommendations for or against certiorari or appeal to the Solicitor General and, under his supervision, drafting briefs and other pleadings. It also collects information regarding civil rights litigation in the United States; analyzes existing and proposed laws falling within the jurisdiction of the Civil Rights Division; and recommends changes in, or drafts new legislation. In the first 6 months of 1958 the Section participated in 50 court cases."
The General Litigation Section is responsible for supervising the enforcement of all of the statutes within the jurisdiction of the Civil Rights Division except the election and voting statutes. This work includes investigation and legal assistance to United States Attorneys in the actual trial of cases. This Section operates through:
1. The Due Process Unit which is responsible for all matters and cases where there is an alleged denial of due process of law under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, for enforcing Federal statutes covering peonage and slavery, merchant seamen, unlawful use of search warrants and the shanghaiing of sailors. During the first 6 months of operation, 72 percent of all new matters within the General Litigation Section were received by the Due Process Unit.
2. The Equal Protection Unit which is responsible for all complaints and cases involving an alleged denial of equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment, for supervising enforcement of the Federal statute relating to the obstruction of justice, the Fugitive Felon Act, the statute prohibiting the exclusion of jurors on account of race or color, and cases of discrimination against persons wearing the uniform of the Armed Forces.
3. The Federal Custody Unit, which is responsible for legal and administrative questions arising from the time of the arrest of a Federal prisoner to his final discharge.
The workload of this Section in the first half of 1958 amounted to 94 matters carried over from the previous year, 792 received and 552 terminated during the 6 months, and 334 pending on June 30.
The Voting and Elections Section is responsible for supervising the administration of the new remedies provided by the Civil Rights Act of 1957. Under this act the Attorney General can bring civil suits or other proceedings for preventive relief to obstruct certain types of interference with the right to vote. The Section may request the Federal Bureau of Investigation to conduct investigations and, on
the basis of its information, decides when court action is necessary and takes part in such action. The Section also supervises the enforcement of Federal criminal statutes applicable to election frauds, interference with the right to vote, the Hatch Act and the Corrupt Practices Act. There were 17 matters pending on January 1, 1958, and 71 additional ones were received in the next 6 months. In the same period 43 were terminated, leaving 45 pending on June 30, 1958.7 The work of the Department of Justice in the field of civil rights is difficult to appraise.
The response of the Civil Rights Division to a request from this Commission for information regarding the number of racial voting complaints received by the Department during the past 5 years was as follows:
Prior to December 9, 1957, the date on which the Civil Rights Division was constituted, records which were available from Department sources did not contain the specific information which you have requested unless the complaints resulted in prosecutions.
During the 5-year period approximately 120 racial voting complaints were received by the Department. This figure relates to specific political subdivisions where registrars and other officials were accused of discriminatory practices rather than to the number of individual complaints of persons affected by the reported practices.
The precise number of investigations which were made of these complaints is not presently available. It may safely be assumed, however, in line with the policy which has consistently been followed, that all complaints which stated prima facie violations of 18 U.S.C. 241 or 242 were investigated.
The Department is currently analyzing and indexing its closed files on voting and election complaints, to include a breakdown of the nature of the complaints and the dates of their occurrence. In general, these complaints include allegations of discrimination against Negroes in administration of registration and literacy requirements, in evasive tactics such as closing registration offices and leaving the office of registrar vacant, and in the purging of registration rolls.
The Justice Department is of the opinion that criminal remedies for voting violations are unsatisfactory and that their shortcomings "have long been recognized."
[T]he Department of Justice over the years has encountered serious difficulties in securing convictions for civil rights violations. Such prosecutive difficulties are compounded in cases of nonviolent racial discrimination, common to the voting field.
Id., pp. 193-194.
Letter from Joseph M. F. Ryan, Jr., Acting Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division, to Dr. John A. Hannah, Chairman, Commission on Civil Rights, June 19, 1959. Ibid.
BA The files of the Truman Committee reveal that more than one resident of the South, including an Assistant U.S. Attorney, expressed to that Committee the opinion that securing convictions was not so all-important as it might seem, that even "unsuccessful" prosecutions, as well as occasional convictions, were of considerable value in preventing further violations of civil rights.
The legislation to increase the effectiveness of Department of Justice action in correcting deprivations of the right to vote was, of course, the Civil Rights Act of 1957. It authorized the use of civil remedies in voting cases as urged by former Attorney General Brownell in his testimony [before the Senate subcommittee in 1957]. Experience in the administration of this act has demonstrated the need for its implementation by a law giving access to registration records and requiring their retention."
Illustrating the difficulty of securing indictments in such cases, the Department of Justice cited its experience with a Federal grand jury in the western district of Louisiana in 1956-57. The jury not only returned no indictments when evidence was presented that 1,400 qualified Negro voters in 3 parishes were illegally purged, but also chose not to hear the complete evidence respecting similar purging of approximately 4,700 qualified Negro voters in 3 additional parishes.12 The defendant in a civil rights case is often an influential citizen of his community, while his victim is normally the opposite. "It is a fair summary of history," Justice Frankfurter has remarked, "to say that the safeguards of liberty have frequently been forged in controversies involving not very nice people." 13 "Washington interference" is the usual defense cry in a civil rights prosecution. Yet civil rights cases are usually prosecuted by the United States attorney, a native of the community, before a local district judge, after investigation by FBI agents who usually reside in the community, before a petit jury of "natives," after indictment by grand jurors from the area.
In the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the Congress sought to remedy these "prosecutive difficulties" of criminal sanctions by reinforcing and extending Federal civil powers to protect the franchise through injunction suits.
But in terms of securing and protecting the right to vote, the record of the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division under the Civil Rights Act of 1957 is hardly more encouraging than it was before.
Nearly two years after passage of the Act, the Department of Justice had brought only three actions under its new powers to seek preventive civil relief-in Terrell County, Georgia; Macon County, Alabama; and Washington Parish, Louisiana. In a presentation to a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee it was revealed that of 32 Civil Rights Division cases pending in court at the end of fiscal 1958, only 7 were properly in the category of "civil rights" as that term is generally understood, 3 were in the field of
10 The authorization of the use of civil remedies by the Department of Justice was also recommended by President Truman's Committee on Civil Rights. To Secure These Rights, the report of the President's Committee on Civil Rights, 1947, pp. 152, 160.
The Truman Committee files reveal that Attorney General Clark and another Department official favored giving the Justice Department such authority and that they considered civil actions especially appropriate for protecting the right to vote.
1 Same as note 8, supra.
13 See Justice Frankfurter's dissent in United States v. Rabinowitz, 339 U.S. 56, 69 (1950).
voting and elections, and no more than 4 were racial cases. During the same period, 11 civil rights cases were presented to grand juries and in 4 cases the jury returned a true bill.15
Some of the members of the subcommittee were apparently not impressed with the record of the Civil Rights Division. A large part of its energies, according to testimony, had been channeled into compiling statistics and compiling and digesting State election laws. With full allowance for the fact that the Division had deferred to State court action in Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania where civil rights agencies exist, and in a few other States where the good faith of State officials was clear, its legal actions were disappointing in number, nature, and results.
The Terrell County (Ga.) action was dismissed on the ground that the relevant sections of the Act of 1957 are unconstitutional. Although the action had been brought against State officials in regard to registration for elections involving candidates for Federal office, the Federal District Judge rejected it on the ground that the Act provides unconstitutionally, he thought-for action against private individuals, and in purely State or local elections.16
As noted in Chapter V of this section of the report, the Macon County (Ala.) action was brought against two registrars, and was dismissed because the registrars had resigned, leaving no party defendant.
At this writing, the Washington Parish (La.) action is still pending.
Thus the new Federal powers provided by the Act of 1957 have not been thoroughly tested.*
Section 131 (c) of the Civil Rights Act of 1957 (42 U.S.C. 1971 (c)) authorizes the Attorney General to "institute a civil action or other proper proceeding for preventive relief, including an application for a permanent or temporary injunction, restraining order, or other order" where "there are reasonable grounds to believe that any person is about to engage in any act or practice which would deprive any other person" of the right to vote. The Commission's Report states that this grant of power to the Attorney General has not been fully tested, having been invoked three times. Yet our findings also show that in 16 counties where Negroes constitute a majority of the voting-age population there are no Negroes registered to vote. In 49 other counties where Negroes constitute a majority of the voting-age population, some, but fewer than five percent, of the voting-age Negroes are registered. The total absence of Negroes from the registration rolls or the registration of only a few in such counties in the writer's view warrants at least an investigation by the Department of Justice to ascertain whether there are not "reasonable grounds" to institute actions for the preventive relief authorized by the statute. Even if such investigations may be hampered by the inability to examine registration records, they should nonetheless be undertaken.
Hearings, pp. 206-211. See footnote 1A.
2. p. 212.
v. Raines, 172 F. Supp. 552 (M.D. Ga. 1959).