Press Releases

Chairman Nadler Statement for the Markup of H.Res. 694, "Recognizing the Importance of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the Laws Derived Therefrom"

Washington, February 12, 2020

Washington, D.C. –Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening remarks, as prepared, during the markup of H.Res. 694, "Recognizing the Importance of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the Laws Derived Therefrom":

"H. Res. 694, 'Recognizing the importance of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the laws derived therefrom,' would reaffirm the essential declaration that Congress made 153 years ago: that all persons born in the United States are citizens, without regard to race, color, or previous condition of slavery or servitude, and that all citizens are afforded the same rights under the law.

"The Civil Rights Act of 1866 was enacted in the wake of the Civil War and passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, which formally abolished slavery.  The law was intended to protect the rights and citizenship of newly freed slaves and to unequivocally reject the Supreme Court’s pre-Civil War Dred Scott decision, which denied citizenship to anyone of African descent.  

"The 14th Amendment, which was adopted two years later, was intended to enshrine the 1866 Act in the Constitution, so that it could never be repealed.  Unfortunately, the Supreme Court, starting with the Slaughterhouse Cases in 1875, gutted much of the 14th Amendment, and the 1866 Civil Rights Act, beginning a line of cases that still infests our jurisprudence today.

"An important provision of the Act of 1866, codified today as Section 1981 of Title 42, guarantees that all citizens have the right to make and enforce contracts, sue and be sued, give evidence in court, and inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property.  The Act was a necessary step toward ensuring that African Americans would be free to develop the means to work, build wealth, vindicate their rights in court, and ultimately receive this country’s founding promise of the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

"Even though the political will to advance racial equality in the aftermath of the Civil War would eventually collapse by 1875, the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 will forever exemplify a vital moment of political conviction and perseverance in our Nation’s longstanding struggle for racial equality. 

"Although the Civil Rights Act of 1866 was initially enacted to protect newly freed slaves, courts have interpreted the law to protect people of any race against intentional racial discrimination.

"At a time when civil rights are under attack in many places across the country, it is valuable to reiterate the importance of this historic statute as our country continues its fight for equality on behalf of all of its citizens.

"And while support for the original Civil Rights Act of 1866 was not unanimous, it would represent important and powerful progress should this resolution enjoy not only bipartisan, but unanimous support today.  I would like to thank Representative Waters for all of her work in introducing this resolution and I urge all of my colleagues to support it."