The Constitution and Civil Rights

By Milton R. Konvitz | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
General Federal Civil Rights
Statutes: Criminal

WE HAVE ALREADY called attention to the 1870 Civil Rights Act, and to the statement by Mr. Justice Bradley that that act is constitutional. One of its sections has become Section 51 of Title 18 of the United States Code— one of the important federal laws relevant to our present discussion.


18 U.S.C. 51

The section provides:

If two or more persons conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any citizen in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or because of his having so exercised the same, or if two or more persons go in disguise on the highway, or on the premises of another, with intent to prevent or hinder his free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege so secured, they shall be fined not more than $5,000 and imprisoned not more than ten years, and shall, moreover, be thereafter ineligible to any office, or place of honor, profit or trust, created by the Constitution or laws of the United States. 1

This provision was originally Section 6 of the 1870 act; it appeared in the 1875 Revised Statutes with some alteration; it became Section 19 of the Criminal Code; and now is generally known as 18 U.S.C. 51. For its adoption the Ku Klux Klan must be thanked. 2

A reading of the act shows a number of limitations: (I) it is a conspiracy statute; it cannot be violated by a single person

____________________
1
Constitutionality upheld in Ex parte Yarbrough, 110 U.S. 651 ( 1884); U.S. v. Waddell, 112 U.S. 76 ( 1884); Baldwin v. Franks, 120 U.S. 678 ( 1887); Logan v. U.S., 144 U.S. 263 ( 1892); Motes v. U.S., 178 U.S. 458 ( 1900).
2
U.S. v. Mosley, 238 U.S. 383 ( 1915), at p. 387.

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