Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks Upon Signing the Jury Selection and Service Act of 1968

March 27, 1968

Distinguished Members of Congress, ladies and gentlemen:

We have come here today to infuse some new strength into our democratic system of government.

Trial by jury is one of the oldest democratic rights enshrined in the American system. For all the years of our Republic, that fundamental right has supported a government based on the rule of law.

One of my earliest experiences was coaching debating teams back in high school and college. The subject was "Resolved: The Jury System Should be Abolished." Every time we took the affirmative of that position we had difficulty.

That is true because the sacred principles of our Constitution demand that juries should fairly represent the peoples of the communities that those juries serve.

But the principle has not always been observed in this country and has not always been practiced among our people.

Too often the jury lists have tended to exclude citizens who were poor or who were not "in" or who may have lacked charisma or may have been members of a minority group.

Now, this discrimination--sometimes we call it "high-hat"--was not always intentional. But sometimes it was intentional. And more often it was certainly a result of a very haphazard selection system.

Each departure from the ideal--whether it was deliberate or not, and we won't spend a lot of time debating whether it was deliberate--left a great scar on the thing we take so much pride in, that we call American justice.

So, the bill that I will sign shortly, takes a principle and makes it into a statute. From now on, all of our Federal juries in this country will be, in the language of the law, "selected at random from a fair cross section of the community."

This measure reinforces the precious legal rights of all of our citizens. And it does more than that alone. It advances the civil rights of those who still reach for their full, and what we believe their proper, place in our society.

Every move that we can make in this country toward the goal of complete equality for all of our people, I think, is a very good step on a very proud journey.

We are drawing closer, I think, ever closer to the fulfillment of a promise that this Nation made to ourselves and to the world many, many years ago. More than 100 years ago Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. But emancipation was a proclamation; it wasn't a fact.

As I sign this bill today, I look ahead to another bill, to another day after the parliamentary technicians get through playing around with it and after the reluctant search their consciences.

I am hopeful that the Civil Rights Act-which we have passed through a body that has been very difficult, in my experience, to pass civil rights bills through, in past years--can pass the House of Representatives; and we will finally put the law on the side of the man who seeks a home for his family.

I am shocked to even think that the boys I put on the plane at the 82d Airborne-most of whom were Negro boys going back to Vietnam the second time to protect that flag and to preserve our freedom--that they can't live near the base where they have to train in this country; they must drive 15, 20, or 30 miles sometimes to get to their homes.

To those of you who have joined in the years of fighting that have been going on, I want to say to each of you: You have my deep gratitude and you have my personal thanks.

I think the conscience of America calls on the Congress to quit fiddling and piddling and take action on this civil rights bill. The time for excuses has ended. The time for action is here. We must protect every citizen of this land in the exercise of his civil rights.

I am honored that you could join me this morning on this historic occasion.

Note: The President spoke at 1 p.m. in the Fish Room at the White House. As enacted, the bill (S. 989) is Public Law 90-274 (82 Stat. 53).

The Civil Rights Act of 1968 was approved by the President on April 11, 1968 (see Item 195).

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks Upon Signing the Jury Selection and Service Act of 1968 Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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