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NOMINATION AND ELECTION OF PRESIDENT AND VICE
PRESIDENT AND QUALIFICATIONS FOR VOTING
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 30, 1961
Washington, D.C. The subcommittee met, pursuant to recess, at 10:10 a.m., in room 457, Old Senate Office Building, Hon. Estes Kefauver (chairman of the subcommittee) presiding.
Present: Senator Kefauver (presiding).
We have met again today particularly to hear any witnesses who want to testify in connection with Senate Joint Resolution 81 and Senate Joint Resolution 58, which would remove the poll tax as a prerequisite for voting in Federal office elections. Senator Stennis
was supposed to be with us today but, because of an urgent situation, he is not able to be here. So we will endeavor to determine another date with him to give him a chance to appear in person.
Now, Mr. Kirby, you have a number of statements to offer for the record, I believe.
Mr. KIRBY. Yes, sir.
Senator Sparkman has submitted a statement for inclusion in the record.
Senator KEFAUVER. Let it be made a part of the record. (The statement of Senator Sparkman follows:)
STATEMENT OF Hon. JOHN SPARKMAN, A U.S. SENATOR FROM THE
STATE OF ALABAMA Mr. Chairman, I appreciate this chance to oppose these antipoll tax measures, Senate Joint Resolution 81 and Senate Joint Resolution 58, which would take away right belonging to the States.
These Senate resolutions would prevent all States from levying a tax as a prerequisite for voting. While I realize a constitutional amendment would have to be ratified by three-fourths of the States, the passage of this amendment would inevitably result in further restricting the rights of States and the granting of more power to the Federal Government. There is a strong tide of grassroots sentiment against further Federal encroachments, and this sentiment is not limited to the South.
These resolutions seek the usurpation of the rights of Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas, and Virginia. While these are the States at which they are obviously aimed, the truth of the matter is that they would affect other States directly and all 50 States indirectly. The Library of Congress informs me that should the proposed constitutional amendment become effective it would nullify certain voting laws in Florida, South Carolina, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island.
There is some question as to whether Maine has a poll tax. I want at this point to insert a portion of an editorial relating to that State's situation.
“PLACE FOR THE POLL TAX
“A correspondent in the Christian Science Monitor drolly requests Congress to make the poll tax illegal in Maine as well as in the Southern States that still retain it.
"Maine's poll tax, he writes, is not exacted as a requirement of voting; in fact, it was originally imposed as a church assessment to pay the preachers. Today the poll tax is simply a source of revenue, the same as it is in most of the Southern States that impose it.
“But whereas the South attaches it to voting, Maine makes it a prerequisite to buying drivers' licenses and getting some hunting and fishing permits. The poll tax applies to males only; women get a driver's license at the regular price.
“The poll tax in Alabama * * * contributes several thousand dollars a year to education. Should the proposed antipoll tax amendemnt to the Constitution be ratified, Alabama might at least save the revenue by the Maine method. Driving a car is as much a privilege as voting, but it doesn't have the same box office appeal to the Constitution tinkers.-Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser, March 10, 1960."
While I have mentioned only a few States specifically affected, of course, all 50 States would be affected simply because a right is a right whether it is used or not.
Tampering with the right of the States to levy poll taxes can result in revenue losses to the States. The poll tax is a form of revenue collection used in the five Southern States to help operate their State governments. As we know so well, the Federal Government has moved steadily into many tax fields. Today there is little left for the States. It is possible that at some time in the future other States may want to levy a poll tax in order to meet financial needs.
My own State of Alabama charges a small poll tax, only $1.50 per year, and no one can be charged more than $3, or 2 years' tax, as a voting prerequisite.
We hear much about balancing the Federal budget, but we should not forget that the States are also having budget troubles. Although the revenue derived from the poll tax may seem to some to be small, it is of substantial importance to Alabama in the support of our public schools.
I wonder why there is so much concern over the payment of a poll tax as a prerequisite for voting in five States. It is simply a tax on voting. In America people have the right to travel as they please, but they have to pay transportation taxes. Children have the the right to an education, but the parents have to pay taxes to support it. Many devices are used to raise tax money. In some States certain property prerequisites are required for voters.
While Alabama has a poll tax, a great part of the population is exempt from it. Veterans of World War I, World War II, and the Korean conflict, and members of the National Guard are exempt from the poll tax. All persons over 45 years of age are exempt, as well as the blind, the deaf, and totally disabled persons owning taxable property not in excess of $500. These exemptions apply to all races.
The Constitution clearly provides that voting qualifications are within the jurisdiction of the State and gives to the several States the right and the power to set up election machinery and to hold elections. I do not believe the Federal Government has any business taking part in it. We must remember that under our Constitution we have a dual system of government—the Federal Government and the State government. This field of voting qualifications and holding elections belongs solely to the States.
I am not in favor of giving the Federal Government any control over it. It does not matter to me whether it is my State or some northerner's State, or some westerner's State, I am opposed to it. I think it belongs to the State.
I believe in our dual system of government. I believe it is the best way to get good government. It is the best way to keep government close to the people by keeping powers lodged in our sovereign States.
I want to continue that system. In my opinion, approval of the amendment before you would impair that system.
Mr. KIRBY. Senator Hill has also submitted a statement.
(The statement of Senator Hill follows:)
STATEMENT OF HON. LISTER HILL, A U.S. SENATOR FROM THE STATE OF ALABAMA
Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, I appreciate this opportunity to appear before your Subcommittee on Constitutional Amendments in opposition to Senate Joint Resolution 58, which would abolish the poll tax as a qualification for electors.
Proposals to abolish the poll tax, either by legislation or by constitutional amendment, have been under consideration in Congress for almost a quarter of a century. During that time, a number of States through their own initiative have abolished the poll tax.
I believe that if Congress should undertake at this time to establish the precedent of enacting into the Constitution itself the personal predilections of a temporary majority, then it shall have opened up a veritable Pandora's box of evils that might well come back to haunt it again and again. If the Congress shall now seek by a constitutional amendment to impose upon the States and the people its own qualifications for suffrage, then it shall have openly invited future Congresses to dictate with respect to other vital areas of the management of our State and local governmental affairs.
Since the adoption of our Constitution, all of our States at one time or another have carried in their constitutions or on their statute books a poll tax or some form of a property qualification for voting. During that time these requirements have been deleted from their constitutions and statute books by the people of the States themselves, and it is altogether fitting and proper that these actions be taken by the people of the States rather than by the Federal Government.
It was never intended by the Founding Fathers that the Federal Government should whittle away the rights of the people and of the States either by legislative fiat or by constitutional amendment. They recognized in that great convention in Philadelphia in 1787 that in constructing the basic document of our American Government they were making an almost irretrievable decision. They had fought through eight long, bloody, desperate years of war to win the independence of the States and of the people from the British Crown. They knew that they represented States that were absolutely independent and free from any other sovereignty on this earth. The sovereignty of the States was full, complete, boundless, and absolute. Whatever portion of that sovereignty they as the delegates to the Constitutional Convention yielded and gave up to the Federal Government, they gave it up carefully, deliberately, painstakingly, and reluctantly.
They carefully wrote into the Consttiution section 2 of article I, which provides :
"The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the Several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.”
This provision of the Constitution means that once the qualifications and the status of the voters have been determined by the States, then the voters' right to cast their votes for Congressman or for Senator is a right dependent upon and guaranteed by the Constitution.
That the States alone have the power to determine the qualifications of their voters has been well established in the law by numerous Supreme Court decisions.
In the case of Breedlove v. Suttles (302 U.S. 277, p. 238 (1937)), the Court passed on the validity of a Georgia statute making a poll tax a voting prerequisite to Federal and State elections. The Court, in holding that the poll tax was not prohibited by the privileges and immunities clause of the 14th amendment and was a proper qualification for voting for the States to impose, said:
“To make payment of poll taxes a prerequisite of voting is not to deny any privilege or immunity protected by the 14th amendment. Privilege of voting is not derived from the United States, but is conferred by the State and, save as restrained by the 15th and 19th amendments and other provisions of the Federal Constitution, the State may condition suffrage as it deems appropriate (Minor v. Happersett, 21 Wall. 162, 170 et seq. ; Ex parte Yarbrough, 110 U.S. 651, 664–665; McPherson v. Blacker, 146 U.S. 1, 37–38; Guinn v. United States, 238 U.S. 347, 362). The privileges and immunities protected are only those that arise from the Constitution and laws of the United States and not those that spring from other sources (Hamilton v. Regents, 293 U.S. 245, 261).”
Thus far in our history only two limitations on the right of the States to fix the qualifications for electors have been written into the Constitution by way of amendment. The 15th amendment took away the power of the States to exclude persons from participation in elections on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. The 19th amendment took away the power of the States to exclude persons from participation in elections on account of sex.
I strongly oppose the principle contained in Senate Joint Resolution 58 on the ground that favorable consideration of the resolution would further limit the right of the States to determine the qualifications of their electors. This is a right of the States that ought to be preserved for their exclusive determination.
When the Founding Fathers gave up a portion of the sovereignty of the States to the Federal Government, they did so with a great deal of trepidation and they did so only with the firm conviction that it was unity alone unity of purpose, unity of resolve, and unity in their mutual dedication to human liberty—that could enable the people of our country to long endure and abound in the joy of the priceless legacy which a heroic young Nation had won at the cost of much sacrifice and loss of life.
At this momentous hour in the history of America and of the world, the objective for which we must strive with all of our fervor and determination is unity.
Let us be done, Senators, with Senate Joint Resolution No. 58. Let us reject it and other such measures, which can only distract and misguide our people, which separate and divide us, and which open the way for the destruction of fundamental rights of the States and the fundamental rights of the people of all the United States. Let us stand squarely upon the Constitution of the United States—rock of freedom, ageless and enduring foundation of our rights, our hopes, and our demncratic faith.
Mr. KIRBY. Senator Robertson has requested that the statement which he submitted for the hearings on this subject in 1959 be reprinted in the record of these hearings.
Senator KEFAUVER. Very well. We will reprint Senator Robertson's statement.
(The statement of Senator Robertson is as follows:)
STATEMENT SUBMITTED BY A. WILLIS ROBERTSON, A SENATOR FROM VIRGINIA
(Originally prepared for delivery on the floor of the U.S. Senate)
POLL TAX AND THE CONSTITUTION
Mr. President, about this time each year there is much talk about the need for Congress to pass so-called civil rights legislation.
I do not recognize any such need. On the contrary, I feel there is an urgent need for relief from efforts to impose on the Southern States legislation designed to capture votes of potent minority groups in other parts of the country.
Some bills of the type to which I am referring are comparatively harmless political gestures. Some are sincerely proposed by idealists who lack knowledge and understanding of local problems in an area of the country with which they are not familiar. But these well-intentioned bills may do serious harm by increasing tensions and disrupting existing programs aimed at correcting the very things which they purport to remedy.
My greatest concern, however, has been with bills which, regardless of their direct impact for good or evil, undermine the foundation of our inherited form of government. These bills contain high-sounding promises to protect the rights of individuals, but they would do so by invading the rights of the States and their political subdivisions which were recognized by the Constitution as a first line of defense for the liberties of the people.
It is inconceivable to me, for example, that the cause of real civil rights would be promoted by the proposal in title III which was eliminated from the bill passed in 1957, to select certain individuals and give them a privilege denied to others, of calling on the Attorney General of the United States to handle civil suits for them at the expense of the United States and to obtain on their behalf court orders under which other citizens might be sent to jail without the constitutional right of a trial by jury. My views on the importance of the right of trial by jury and the dangers of tampering with that right were outlined at some length on this floor in June and July of 1957 and I hope these statements,