by Patricia A. Schaeffer, Vice President-Regulatory Affairs
On September 5, 2007, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) chaired a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on “The 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and its Continuing Importance.” This legislation, which was enacted during President Dwight Eisenhower’s administration, was the first civil rights law passed since the end of the civil war in the 1860s.
The new law established the Civil Rights Section of the Justice Department and empowered federal prosecutors to obtain court injunctions against interference with the right to vote. The law also authorized the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
While disappointing to some who had lobbied for a much stronger voting rights bill, the Civil Rights Act of 1957 is considered important in laying the groundwork for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Witnesses at the hearing included:
- The Honorable John Lewis, U.S. Representative (D-GA)
- Wade Henderson, President and CEO, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights
- Theodore Shaw, Director-Counsel and President, NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund Inc.
- Peter Zamora, Regional Counsel, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund
- Gail Heriot, Commissioner, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
- Robert P. Moses, President, The Algebra Project Inc.
- Robert H. Driscoll, Partner, Alston & Bird
Several of the witnesses testifying at the hearing called on Congress to step up their oversight of the Justice Department.