Jury trial amendment
When the United States Senate took up the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the O'Mahoney jury trial amendment was introduced and passed, which weakened the legislation to being effectively toothless. The scheme was masterminded by then-Senate Majority Leader (and later president) Lyndon B. Johnson, who compromised with the Southern segregationists to pass a weak bill rather than oversee a defeat under a filibuster.
Timeline and details
Following the removal of Title III which authorized additional powers for the United States Attorney General to seek preventive relief in civil rights cases, the only remaining strong civil rights provision was Title IV, which covered voting rights. The jury trial amendment aimed to halt any further substantial progress. It required jury trials in all cases of criminal contempt, which in the South would result in a white defendant being acquitted by their segregationist peers in practically any case where they were accused by blacks of violating voting rights.
Under United States law, jury trials are guaranteed for alleged violators of civil rights injunctions when punishing for criminal contempt, although not in the circumstance for bringing about civil contempt actions. However, the introduced amendment guaranteed jury trials even in proceedings pertaining to civil contempt.
The motivation for Wyoming Democrat Joseph O'Mahoney to introduce the amendment was based on Western liberal populist roots. Due to judges having traditionally shut down labor union power in the region, reinforcement and expansion of jury trial rights resonated with liberal Democrats from states in the area. According to Lyndon Johnson biographer Robert A. Caro, the amendment may have been an act of retaliation against the 1948 Taft-Hartley Act.
The amendment passed on August 2, 1957 by a 51–42 vote. 80% of Democrats voted yea on weakening the Civil Rights Act of 1957, compared to only 26% of Republicans. The Democrats who ensured the passage of the amendment were not exclusive to the Southern bloc, as a number of their Northern colleagues (who were largely New Deal liberals) including Mike Mansfield, Warren Magnuson and James E. Murray supported it. Then-senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts initially opposed the jury trial amendment, though voted yea after being lobbied by Johnson.
The following table shows the percentage of affirmative votes for the amendment by region and party:[note 1]
|Northern||26% (12/46)||63% (17/27)|
|Southern||N/A (0/0)||100% (22/22)|
Republicans who were persistent in advocating for black voting rights were livid following the amendment's passage. According to Caro:
|“||In the wake of the vote, emotions spilled over. Richard Nixon could not contain his frustration and rage. When, as he was leaving the Chamber, reporters asked his reaction, the Vice President said, “This is one of the saddest days in the history of the Senate. It was a vote against the right to vote.” Clarence Mitchell went to [William Knowland]'s office to discuss what to do now, and could hardly believe what he saw there. “That big, strong, brusque Knowland actually broke down and cried,” Mitchell was to recall.||”|
- In the table, senators from the states of Kentucky, Oklahoma, Maryland, and West Virginia are not included as being part of the Southern bloc.
- Caro, Robert Allan (2003). Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson (p. 944–89). Retrieved September 21, 2021.
- DiEugenio, James (October 7, 2018). The Kennedys and Civil Rights: How the MSM Continues to Distort History, Part 2. Kennedys and King. Retrieved August 4, 2021.
- The Civil Rights Act of 1957. US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives. Retrieved August 4, 2021.
- HR. 6127. CIVIL RIGHTS ACT OF 1957. AMENDMENT TO DELETE AUTHORITY FOR ATTORNEY GENERAL TO SEEK PREVENTIVE RELIEF IN CIVIL RIGHTS CASES UNDER THE 14TH AMENDMENT.. GovTrack.us. Retrieved August 4, 2021.
- HR. 6127. CIVIL RIGHTS ACT OF 1957. AMENDMENT TO GUARANTEE JURY TRIALS IN ALL CASES OF CRIMINAL CONTEMPT AND PROVIDE UNIFORM METHODS FOR SELECTING FEDERAL COURT JURIES.. GovTrack.us. Retrieved August 4, 2021.