The Constitution and Civil Rights

By Milton R. Konvitz | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
General Federal Civil Rights
Statutes: Civil

THE IMPORTANT general federal civil rights acts, giving the right to bring a civil suit for damages when civil rights are violated, are 8 U.S.C. 41, 43, and 47(3). 1 In a general sense they might be said to be correlative with the criminal civil rights acts already considered.

Section 41 is derived from the civil rights statutes of 1866 and 1870; Section 43 is derived from an act of 1871, while Section 47 is derived from 1861 and 1871 acts. All the provisions, therefore, stem from the Reconstruction program. 2


8 U.S.C. 41

All persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall have the same right in every state and territory to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, give evidence, and to the full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of persons and property as is enjoyed by white citizens, and shall be subject to like punishment, pains, penalties, taxes, licenses, and exactions of every kind, and to no other.

The substance of Section 41 was adopted in 1866, under the Thirteenth Amendment (which was adopted in 1865). In 1868 the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted, and two years later the statute was reenacted. The question at once suggests itself, Is Section 41 to be read in the light of the Thirteenth or the Fourteenth Amendment? The answer may be important. For, as we have said, the Thirteenth Amendment is directed against individual as well as against official action; while the Fourteenth Amendment is directed against only official action. Are the rights

____________________
1
Cf. 8 U.S.C. 48.
2
Cf. 28 U.S.C. 13, 14, 41.

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