Digital History>eXplorations>Lynching>Anti-Lynching Legislation of the 1920s>Comments by Thomas Bell


CONGRESSIONAL RECORD-HOUSE Comments by Thomas Montgomery Bell (January 18, 1922)

Mr. Bell: If the bill as written should be enacted into law, it will, of course, be held unconstitutional. No court would jeopardize its reputation for integrity and knowledge of legal procedure by declaring such law valid and constitutional. To construe it otherwise would constitute one of the most infamous judicial rapes of our National Constitution ever recorded in the annals of legal jurisprudence. I can not understand how an unbiased person with legal knowledge, who has studied our Constitution and the provisions of the bill, can reach any other conclusion. Where and when did the States delegate to the Federal Government the right to
make criminal laws to govern any State? What paragraph of the Constitution denies to the States their full enjoyment and discharge of such rights and powers?

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively or to the people. (See Article 10, Constitution.)

It is admitted by all that there is no authority for the proposed legislation unless it be found under the provisions of the fourteenth amendment. Let us, therefore, consider the question in the light of the decision of our courts. The fourteenth amendment provides that no State shall "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of its laws". What does this mean? Regarding the amendment in the case of the United States v. Cruikshank (1 Woods, 308), the court said:

It is a guaranty against the exertion of arbitrary and tyrannical power on the part of the Government and the legislature of the State, not a guaranty against the commission of individual offenses;
and the power of Congress, whether express or implied, to legislate for the enforcement of such a guaranty does not extend to the passage of laws for the suppression of crime within the States. The enforcement of
the guaranty does not require or authorize Congress to perform the duty that the guaranty itself supposes it to be the duty of the State to perform, and which it requires the State to perform.

In One hundred and sixth United States, page 638, the above is approvingly cited in the case of United States against Harris. Again, in United States v. Cruikshank et al. (92 U. S., p. 542), the court said:
Sovereignty for the protection of the rights of life and personal liberty within the respective States rests alone with the States.

In Virginia v. Rives (100 U. S., p. 313) the court holds: The prohibitions of the fourteenth amendment have exclusive reference to State action. It is the State which is prohibited from denying to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the law--And so forth. In the famous Civil Rights case, United States v. Stanley et al. (109 U. S., p. 11), discussing the fourteenth amendment the court said: It does not invest Congress with power to legislate upon subjects which are within the domain of State legislation.

The law books are full of decisions to this effect, such as Barbier v. Connolly (113 U. S.) ; Pembina Mining and Milling Co. v. Pennsylvania (125 U. S.) ; James v. Bowman (190 U. S.) ; Barney v. City of New York (193 U. S.) ; Keller & Ullman v. United States (213 U. S.), which discuss the question and show conclusively the unconstitutionality of the proposed bill. But why submit additional authorities upon a proposition so plain? In conclusion, let me say it may be-shocking as it is to conceive-that public opinion holds the virtue of its women in no higher respect than does it regard property. In some States-Pennsylvania, for instance-it may be possible for a black brute to lay his lecherous hands upon the fair form of a virtuous white girl, deflower her youth, blacken and wreck her life, and by counting out a thousand filthy dollars walk out of the courtroom free to repeat his heinous offense. But, thank God, in Georgia, and in other States who share her ideals, if a brute lay his hands in violence upon a woman, be he black or white, high or low, rich or poor, born within or without her borders, he shall pay with his life for this offence. No act of Congress or proclamation of President can change this law or abate one jot or tittle thereof. With pride and reverence, I stand by the traditions and ideals of my people and under my oath to support the Constitution I vote "No."

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