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Part V: EMPLOYMENT
Book 4, Part VI: HOUSING
Book 5: JUSTICE
Part VIII: THE AMERICAN INDIAN
Part IX: CONCLUSION
The United States Commission on Civil Rights was created by the Civil Rights Act of 1957 as a bipartisan agency to study civil rights problems and report to the President and Congress. Originally created for a 2-year term, it issued its first comprehensive report on September 8, 1959.
On September 14, 1959, Congress extended the Commission's life for another 2 years. This is the second of five volumes of the Commission's second statutory report.
Briefly stated, the Commission's function is to advise the President and Congress on conditions that may deprive American citizens of equal treatment under the law because of their color, race, religion, or national origin. The Commission has no power to enforce laws or correct any individual wrong. Basically, its task is to collect, study, and appraise information relating to civil rights throughout the country, and to make appropriate recommendations to the President and Congress for corrective action. The Supreme Court has described the Commission's statutory duties in this way:
.. its function is purely investigative and factfinding. It does not adjudicate. It does not hold trials or determine anyone's civil or criminal liability. It does not issue orders. Nor does it indict, punish, or impose any legal sanctions. It does not make determinations depriving anyone of his life, liberty, or property. In short, the Commission does not and cannot take any affirmative action which will affect an individual's legal rights. The only purpose of its existence is to find facts which may subsequently be used as the basis for legislative or executive action.
Specifically, the Civil Rights Act of 1957, as amended, directs the Commission to: • Investigate formal allegations that citizens are being deprived of their right to vote and have that vote counted by reason of their color, race, religion, or national origin; • Study and collect information concerning legal developments which constitute a denial of equal protection of the laws under the Constitution; • Appraise the laws and policies of the Federal Government with respect to equal protection of the laws under the Constitution; • Prepare and submit interim reports to the President and the Congress and a final and comprehensive report of its activities, findings and recommendations by September 9, 1961.
The Commission's 1959 Report included 14 specific recommendations for executive or legislative action in the field of civil rights. On January 13, 1961, an interim report, Equal Protection of the Laws in Public Higher Education, containing three additional recommendations for executive or legislative action, was presented for the consideration of the new President and Congress. This was a broad study of the problems of segregation in higher education.
The material on which the Commission's reports are based has been obtained in various ways. In addition to its own hearings, conferences, investigations, surveys and related research, the Commission has had the cooperation of numerous Federal, State, and local agencies. Private organizations have also been of immeasurable assistance. Another source of information has been the State Advisory Committees which, under the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the Commission has established in all 50 States. In creating these committees, the Commission recognized the great value of local opinion and advice. About 360 citizens are now serving as committee members without compensation.
The first statutory duty of the Commission indicates its major field of study-discrimination with regard to voting. Pursuant to its statutory obligations, the Commission has undertaken field investigations of formal allegations of discrimination at the polls. In addition, the Commission held public hearings on this subject in New Orleans on September 27 and 28, 1960, and May 5 and 6, 1961.
The Commission's second statutory duty is to "study and collect information concerning legal developments constituting a denial of equal protection of the laws under the Constitution.” This takes in studies of Federal, State, and local action or inaction which the courts may be expected to treat as denials of equal protection. Since the constitutional right to equal protection is not limited to groups identified by color, race, religion, or national origin, the jurisdiction of the Commission is not strictly limited to discrimination on these four grounds. However, the overriding concern of Congress with such discrimination (expressed in congressional debates and in the first subsection of the statute) has underscored the need for concentrated study in this area.
Cases of action or inaction discussed in this report constitute "legal developments” as well as denials of equal protection. Such cases may have been evidenced by statutes, ordinances, regulations, judicial decisions, acts of administrative bodies, or of officials acting under color of law. They may also have been expressed in the discriminatory application of nondiscriminatory statutes, ordinances or regulations.
Inaction of government officials having a duty to act may have been indicated, for example, by the failure of an officer to comply with a court order or the regulation of a governmental body authorized to direct his activities.
In discharing its third statutory duty to “appraise the laws and policies of the Federal Government with respect to equal protection of the laws under the Constitution," the Commission evaluates the effectiveness of measures which by their terms or in their application either aid or hinder “equal protection” by Federal, State, or local government. Absence of Federal laws and policies that might prevent discrimination where it exists falls in this area. In appraising laws and policies, the Commission has considered the reasons for their adoption as well as their effectiveness in providing or denying equal protection.
The 1959 Report embraced discrimination in public education and housing as well as at the polls. When the Commission's term was extended in 1959, it continued its studies in these areas and added two major fields of inquiry: Government-connected employment and the administration of justice. A preliminary study looked into the civil rights problems of Indians.
In the public education field, the problems of transition from segregation to desegregation continued to command attention. To collect facts and opinion in this area, the Commission's Second Annual Conference on Problems of Schools in Transition was held March 21 and 22, 1960, at Gatlinburg, Tenn. A third annual conference on the same subject was held February 25 and 26, 1961, at Williamsburg, Va.
To supplement its information on housing, education, employment, and administration of justice the Commission conducted public hearings covering all of these subjects in California and Michigan. On January 25 and 26, 1960, such a hearing was held at Los Angeles; and on January 27 and 28, 1960, in San Francisco. A Detroit hearing took place on December 14 and 15, 1960.
Upon the extension of the Commission's life in 1959, and at the request of President Eisenhower, five of the Commissioners consented to remain in office: John A. Hannah, Chairman, president of Michigan State University; Robert G. Storey, Vice Chairman, head of Southwestern Legal Center and former dean of Southern Methodist University Law School; Doyle E. Carlton, former Governor of Florida; Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., president of the University of Notre Dame; and George M. Johnson, professor of law and former dean of Howard University School of Law.
John S. Battle, former Governor of Virginia, resigned. To replace him the President nominated Robert S. Rankin, chairman of the depart
ment of political science, Duke University. This nomination was confirmed by the Senate on July 2, 1960.
On March 16, 1961, President Kennedy accepted the resignations of Doyle E. Carlton and George M. Johnson. A few weeks later he nominated Erwin N. Griswold, dean of Harvard University Law School and Spottswood W. Robinson III, dean of the Howard University School of Law, to fill the two vacancies. The Senate confirmed these nominations on July 27, 1961.
Gordon M. Tiffany, Staff Director for the Commission from its inception, resigned on January 1, 1961. To replace him, President Eisenhower appointed Berl I. Bernhard to be Acting Staff Director on January 7, 1961. He had been Deputy Staff Director since September 25, 1959. On March 15, 1961, President Kennedy nominated him as Staff Director. The Senate confirmed his nomination on July 27, 1961.