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Attorney General Defends Civil Rights Bill

July 18, 1963 - Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy denied today that the Administration’s civil rights bill would “improperly” interfere with either the rights of the states or the rights of private property. Southern opponents argue that four sections of the bill, dealing with schools, voting, public accommodations, and Federal funds, are an infringement on states’ rights. They are joined by many Northern legislators of both parties in asserting that the proposed ban on discrimination in public facilities would impair property rights. The Attorney General addressed himself to both these arguments today as he began testifying on the bill before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The committee is headed by Senator James O. Eastland of Mississippi, a staunch segregationist. Mr. Kennedy accused Southerners, in effect, of forgetting the debates in the Constitutional Convention and misapplying their favorite doctrine. He said: “States’ rights, as our forefathers conceived it, was a protection of the right of the individual citizen. Those who preach most frequently about states’ rights today are not those seeking the protection of the individual citizen, but his exploitation.” Mr. Kennedy said that while the Administration believed in the principle of “the less Federal intervention the better,” it could not forget that a citizen of Alabama or Mississippi “is also an American citizen.” “We expect him to obey American laws, to pay American taxes, to fight and die in American wars, whatever the color of his skin,” Mr. Kennedy said.


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