Rarely has the United States Senate been so drastically and dogmatically divided on a major issue as on the jury trial amendment to the Civil Rights Bill – and it has rarely been more difficult to determine which side had the upper hand. more justice in its favor.
The jury trial amendment was approved early Friday morning by 51 to 42 votes. The amendment was supported by 39 Democrats and 12 Republicans. Nine Democrats and 33 Republicans voted against. It was essentially a party line vote, but there were a few very important exceptions. And perhaps the strangest thing of all was that the former Republican Democratic-Conservative Southern coalition was shattered to the point of becoming unrecognizable – but the Southerners won anyway.
The political repercussions of the vote were more evident than the long-term legal and moral implications. For example. Senator Henry Dworshak, a longtime Conservative Republican who voted against the amendment, told us yesterday that the amendment “has virtually scuttled any hope for an effective civil rights bill.”
While we have been inclined to take the Republican position on this issue, it must be admitted that the pro-amendment forces have strengthened their arguments considerably since Senator Frank Church (D-Idaho) brought into the debate his idea that the jury trial method in criminal contempt cases, as opposed to civil contempt, was an essential part of due process. We are not persuaded that Church’s distinction between civil and criminal contempt is as important as he claims it is, although it is a technical legal basis upon which a layman must proceed with. caution. We suspect, on the other hand, that Dworshak may have been simplistic in the heat of the moment when he concluded that effective civil rights enforcement had been “scuttled” by the vote. We suspect that President Eisenhower also exaggerated the case when he said the amendment would make the bill “largely ineffective” in protecting the right to vote.
In any case, we may be wise to weigh how the amendment works in practice, assuming that a civil rights bill can now be passed, rather than fighting too vigorously over who was more right. or wrong. The most important thing, after all, was to embark on a civil rights bill. Once the start is made, there will be other sessions of the Congress to benefit, we hope, from the lessons of the experience.
On the political side, a comment from a senator that Dworshak relayed merits reflection:
“You know, we Republicans started this thing believing that we were not only doing the right thing, but also that we were going to leave the Democrats hopelessly divided. Now, after the maneuvers of Lyndon Johnson (D-Texas, Senate majority leader), the Democrats have made their way without splitting their party and left the Republicans to quarrel with each other!
Without endorsing this view, Dworshak conceded that Johnson had put on an “incredible” display of Democratic force mobilization behind the jury trial amendment. Thus, the mission that was expected in some quarters to “finish” Johnson increased his stature, at least, among some of his adversaries.
Political results are not as important on an issue as important as this one as legal and ethical results. In this area, the suitors, whatever their choices, seem convinced to be completely and definitely right. It seems, at least, that there is no monopoly on sincerity on either side. We suspect that there is also no monopoly on wisdom. The cause we supported suffered defeat, but time alone will tell how painful it has been.
This story appeared in the August 3, 1957 edition of the Lewiston Tribune.