Important Decision in Regard to Civil Rights Bill in New Orleans.

May 19, 1866


Controversy continues in the South over constitutionality of Civil Rights act. Southerners debate the rationality of granting full citizenship to black Louisiana prisoners.


Important Decision in Regard to the Civil Rights Bill in New Orleans. We clip from the New Orleans Crescent of May 10th the following very important decision on the Civil Rights bill, which was rendered by Mr. Justice Abell, of the First District Court of New Orleans: State of Louisiana vs. E. Dewees), P. Nelson, et al. First District Court- Charge, "Burglary." This is a rule upon the attorney-general of the State and the district attorney of the parish to show cause why this case should not be transferred to the District Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Louisiana, there to be tried and determined. There are eleven charges of burglary against these prisoners, and as they involve the same consideration, they may well be decided at once under the present rule. This application rests upon the construction to be given to an act, purporting to be an act of Congress, approved the day of ----, 1866, entitled an act to protect all persons in the United States in their civil rights, and to furnish means for their vindication. This rule involves grave considerations: first, is there such an act of Congress; second, if there is, is it constitutional; and third, if there be such an act, and it constitutional, have these parties brought themselves within its provisions. The act relied upon, not having received the signature of the President, rests for its validity upon the second clause of section seventh, first article of the Constitution of the United States, which declares that "every bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate ; shall, before it becomes a law, be presented to the President of the United States; if he approve, he shall sign it: if not, he shall return it with his objections to the House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the objections at large on their ' journal, and proceed to reconsider it. If, after such considerations, two-thirds of the House shall agree to pass the bill, it shall be sent, together with the objections, to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two-thirds of the House it shall become a law." The first clause of section three, article | first of the Constitution, clearly defines what constitutes the Senate of the United States in these words: "The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State chosen by the Legislature thereof for six years, and each Senator shall have a vote." The term Senate, as used in this section, is convertible and synonymous, as used in the Constitution, with that of "House," used in section seven, and means the entire body, in contradistinction to "members present," as will clearly appear from the fifth clause of section three, which declares that the "Senate shall have the sole power to try all impeachments; when sitting for that purpose, they shall be on oath or affirmation. When the President of the United States is on trial, the Chief Justice shall preside, and no person shall be convicted without the concurrence of two-thirds of the members present." In this case two-thirds of the members may remove [the President]. The same power could have been granted to two-thirds of , the members present to make a law over , the veto of the President. The law-ma-king power is high- and transcendent, and it is not of reason that the trainers of the Constitution intended to vest such a power in "two-thirds of the members present," which may be less than a majority of the Senate, as in the present case. Such a construction would shock to republican people and impeach the wisdom of the founders of the Government. If my premises and conclusions be correct, the Civil Rights bill never became a law. If I am incorrect, is the law constitutional? This depends upon the powers conferred upon Congress by the several States to regulate their internal and domestic affairs. If Congress has exceeded these powers, the law is unconstitutional and not binding upon the courts of the country.
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Brooke Beam




“Important Decision in Regard to Civil Rights Bill in New Orleans.,” Reconstructing Virginia, accessed March 30, 2023,