1934-05-08_Fed._Register_-_Johnson_Act.pdf: Discussion of the Johnson Act by House of Representatives on May 8, 1934 (The applicable text starts on page 2 of the PDF file at the heading "PROCEDURE OF PUBLIC UTILITY COMMISSIONS")
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PROCEDURE OF PUBLIC UTILITY COMMISSIONS
Mr. O'CONNOR. Mr. Speaker, I call up Hous~ Resolution
The Clerk read the House resolution, as follows:
Resolved, That upon the adoption or this resolution it shall be
1n order to move that the House resolve itsel! Into the Committee
of the Whcile House on the state or the Union or the consideration
of S. 752, an act to amend section 24 or the Judicial Code, ns amended, with respect to the jurisdiction of the district courts of the United States over suits relating to orders of State administrative
boards; that after general debate, which shall be con.tined to the b111 and shall continue not to exceed 5 hours, to be equally divided and controlled by the Chairman and ranking minority member of the Committee on the Judiciary, the blll shall be read
for amendment under the 5-minute rule. At the conclusion of
the rending of the bill for amendment the Committee shall rise
and report the bill to the House with such amendments as may have been adopted, and the previous question shall be considered as ordered on the blll and amendments thereto to final passage without Intervening motion except one motion to recommit, with or without Instructions.
Mr. O'CONNOR. Mr. Speaker, may I inquire if the gentleman
from Massachusetts on behalf of the minority wants
the usual time?
Mr. MARTIN of Massachusetts. Mr. Speaker, I request
the usual 30 minutes. I do not know that I shall use it all,
but I should like to have it at this time.
Mr. O'CONNOR. Mr. Speaker, I yield 30 minutes to the
gentleman from Massachusetts.
Mr. Speaker, this is the rule which provides for the con- sideration of the so-called "Johnson bill." The rule is an open one and provides for 5 hours of general debate.
The Johnson bill, which prevents public utilities from
resorting to the Federal courts where no interstate com- merce is involved, is a. little unusual by reason of the fact
that it was amended in the Judiciary Committee. The com- mittee amendment is known as the" Lewis bill." The legislation
is thereby left in the situation that those preferring
the Johnson bill will vote down the committee amendment
known as the " Lewis bill ", and those preferring the
Lewis bill will vote for the committee amendment.
Mr. BRITTEN. Mr. Speaker, will the gentleman yield?
Mr. O'CONNOR I yield.
Mr. BRITTEN. The gentleman refers to LEWIS of the
House, and not LEwrs of the Senate?
^Mr. O'CONNOR.^ I refer to the distinguished gentleman
from Colorado, Mr. -LEWIS, our colleague.
The vote in the Judiciary Committee was particularly
close, which also makes the question very interesting. The
vote was 11 for the Lewis bill and 10 for the Johnson bill.
So that the House will appreciate the importance of the·
question I may say that it has been before Congress for
many years. The question involves the resort of the utility
companies to our Federal courts with the consequent delays
and the expense and the alleged abuses to which such resort
has given rise. The Johnson bill prevents a resort to the
Federal courts unless an interstate question is involved. The
Lewis bill gives the utility companies the choice between
going into the State courts and the Federal courts, but denies
to the utility companies the right they now have, and which
it is claimed they have abused, of transferring a case from one jurisdiction to another after they have once selected
Mr. O'MALLEY. Mr. Speaker, will the gentleman yield?
Mr. O'CONNOR. I yield.
Mr. O'MALLEY. Have not the utility. companies now the
choice of going into a Federal court or a State court?
Mr. O'CONNOR. They have.
Mr. O'MALLEY. And they never choose the State courts,
but always go into the Federal courts.
Mr. O'CONNOR. I do not know the facts about that, but as to New York S.tate and New York City they have almost
invariably resorted to the Federal Courts.
The legislative change sought to be accomplished by each
of these bills does not embrace a new idea. I may say that
nearly every member of the New York delegation, including
myself, for years bas attempted to correct what we claimed were the abuses of the utility companies rushing into the
Federal courts and taking advantage of what we contend
is a foreign jurisdiction. For instance, in New York it has
often happened that the utilities commission having held
hearings lasting years, and having made a ruling, and having
fixed a rate, the utility company not having complied
with the rate was thereupon taken into the State courts by
the utilities commission; the matter has been heard at
great length in the State courts, and then some dark night
the utilities company would meak up to the apartment of a Federal judge who was visiting in New York, from Texas or California, enjoying our sights and night clubs; and the
utilities company would get a temporary injunction or re- straining order which transferred the case to the Federal
courts where it would be heard de novo with .additional
years and expense consumed in reaching a determination
of the case. That has been the usual situation.
Now, may I take as an example a small town, a little town
up-State in New York, for instance. A water company has
l1 dispute with its consumers over the rates to be charged for water. The water company is a New York corporation.
All its business is done in New York State and in that town.
All its customers live in the town. There is no interstate
question involved at all. But under the pretext of a violation
of the provisions of the fourteenth amendment, the dueprocess
clause, when that utility company sees fit they wm rush. into a Federal court before a judge who knows nothing
about the local conditions and will fight out the issue in the
Federal comt, when every issue involved is between the residents
of that particular town and the residents of the State
of New York.
The State courts are plenty good enough for the people
of our State. There are a few · other persons or corporations
who resort to the Federal courts rather than the State
courts to determine their peculiarly local or domestic
I am one of those who believe, and I have so stated very
often, that there is no necessity for any Federal courts ex- cept our Supreme Court. I have stated heretofore that 99
percent of the cases brought in our Federal courts are brought through deceit or trickery, either under the guise
of diversity of citizenship or some other alleged Federal
question, when that issue could just as well have been tried
in the State court.
For instance, we had in the state of New York some years
ago an admiralty court which tried all admiralty cases. There was no complaint about the conduct of that court,
but the court passed out of existence because the big steamship
companies and the big lawyers representing them re-sorted to the Federal courts in every admiralty case. And
60 it is with practically every other case in the Federal
court. They could Just as well and more properly be tried
in our State courts.
The Lewis bill, I may say, has another feature in it which
will be called to your attention. Of course, I do not pretend to be able to analyze these bills with the same ability
86 the members of the Judiciary Committee or the distinguished lawyer from Colorado, but this main question has
been on the lips of everybody in Congress and out for a
great many years, and I am sure that every one here has
taken a greater interest in this particular subject than in
the ordinary legislation which comes before us.
Mr. ADAMS. Will the gentleman Yield?
Mr. O'CONNOR. I yield to the gentleman from Delaware.
Mr. ADAMS. Just a few moments ago the gentleman
stated something about justice being obtained in State
courts. The gentleman undoubtedly recognizes cases where
justice would be dealt with better in the Federal courts than
in the State courts, where there is no connection whatsover
with State utilities on the part of the judiciary, counsel,
directors, or the holders of stock.
Mr. O'CONNOR. I have greater faith in our State courts
and the judges that preside over them than to believe, as
t.he utility companies do today, that because they are elected
by the people their reelection will cause them to cater to
the clamor-you might call it-of the people who are paying
these rates and who feel that they are being unjustly gouged.
Mr. CARPENTER of Nebraska. Will the gentleman yield?
Mr. O'CONNOR. I yield to the gentleman from Nebraska.
Mr. CARPENTER of Nebraska. Another thing is that the
people of the State can get at the State judges, while these
Federal judges cannot be removed except by death.
Mr. O'CONNOR. That does not apply in all cases, because in many States the judges are appointed for life. In
those States the utility companies would have no cause for
fear, and I am confident they will receive justice in the
·States where the judges a.re elected.
I believe the Johnson bill presents the proper approach to
this question. [Applause.] As a lawyer, I will admit it
may be drastic; but I believe that in a scandalous situation,
such as .we have had, with the arrogance of these utility
companies, whose lobbyists right now swarm the lobbies and
·the galleries of this House, with their arrogance with legislatures and with this Congress, and their ceaseless propagranda, that a little spanking, as it were, such as we indulged in the other day by means of the stock exchange
bill, may be the most effective way of bringing these corporations to terms with our people. Of course, they realize
.that something is going to happen to them; and so rather
than take the whole " licking " they are now attempting
to lobby through the Lewis bill as a half-way measure or
the lesser of two evils, although they are still threatening
and fighting to the last ditch to prevent any bill passing.
Mr. YOUNG. Will the gentleman yield?
Mr. O'CONNOR. I yield to the gentleman from Ohio.
Mr. YOUNG. Is it not a fact that the arrogance of the
public-utilities lobby is matched in many respects by the
arrogance of the Federal courts of this country, who are
judges, lawmakers, and executioner combined in one without
responsibility to anyone?
Mr. O'CONNOR. I am glad to have a distinguished Democrat join with me in protesting against even the existence of the lower Federal courts. It always surprises me
when anyone from the South, for instance, asks for a new
Federal district or for a new Federal judge, because I cannot
appreciate how they, of all people, can make the request if
they have any knowledge of the history of what these carpetbagging judges have done in that territory and what they
, have done to us in New York and the rest of the country.
· It is almost the invariable rule that all these restraining
orders and all these injunctions issued in behalf of the
utility companies against the citizens of our States and cities
bave been issued by a visiting Federal judge spending a joyous vacation in New York and getting the extra $10 a. day for
the privations he suffers.
Mr. Mc FARLANE. Will the gentleman yfeld?
Mr. O'CONNOR. I yield to the gentleman from Texas.
Mr. Mc FARLANE. Does the gentleman believe that if we
could limit the term of office of these Federal Judges, requir·
ing them to check in mth the people and have the people
pass on their qualifications a.bout every 6 years, it might
correct the situation?
Mr. O'CONNOR. That is only a half-way measure like
the Lewis bill. Let us have no half-way doings.
Mr. SABATH. Will the gentleman yield?
Mr. O'CONNOR. I yield to the gentleman from Illinois.
Mr. SABATH. Is it not a fact that in many Instances
these utility corporations, when they cannot obtain all they
desire from the utility commissions, jump into the Federal
courts and go even as far as to demand and secure a receivership for corporations that should not be forced into receivership or bankruptcy, as has been done in several of the cities
of the United States?
Mr. O'CONNOR. Yes; and then some relative of the
judge is appointed receiver, as has happened so often in
Chicago and for which three Federal judges are about to be
Mr. SABATH. That is what I wanted to bring out.
Mr. O'CONNOR. While I believe the Lewis bill is some
improvement over the existing situation, I am primarily
convinced that the way to meet this vexatious problem is to go " whole hog " and prevent these utility people
from taking purely local questions into the Federal courts,
and restrict them to the State courts as our other citizens
I believe this House, after consideration of this most
important measure, will pass this bill for which we have
waited so many years. [Applause.]
Mr. O'MALLEY. Will the gentleman yield?
Mr. O'CONNOR. I yield.
Mr. O'MALLEY. The gentleman states he thinks the
Lewis bill is an improvement over the existing situation.
I wonder if he could explain just how it improves the
Mr. O'CONNOR. Of course, the Lewis bill does thfs
one thing. Once these companies have got into the State
court, under the Lewis bill, they cannot then switch to the
Federal court as they do now.
Mr. O'MALLEY. They can switch now?
Mr. O'CONNOR. Yes. Furthermore, under the Lewis
bill the testimony taken before the Utilities Commission is
at least prima facie evidence and the court does not have to
go into the matter de novo, except for certain language of
the Lewis bill which in my opinion would leave the door
open for new evidence.
Mr. O'MALLEY. Of course, the gentleman realizes that
under the Lewis bill if they have the option of going into
the state or Federal courts, they will never go into the
Mr. O'CONNOR. I know that. They will always resort
to the Federal courts.
Mr. CARPEN'IER of Nebraska. Will the gentleman
Mr. O'CONNOR. I yield.
Mr. CARPENTER of Nebraska. Is it not true that the
President of the United States favors the original Johnson
bill as passed by the Senate?
Mr. O'CONNOR. I do not know that.
I believe the way to meet this most important question
is for this House to pass the Johnson bill. [Applause]
Mr. MARTIN of Massachusetts. Mr. Speaker, I yield 15
minutes to the gentleman from Michigan [Mr. MAPES]
Mr. MAPES. Mr. Speaker, I am supporting this rule.
I voted for it in the Committee on Rules and I favor the
passage of the Johnson bill, as distinguished from the
Lewis substitute, after the rule. is adopted.
This legislation, in one form or another, has been pending in Congress for a great many years. The distinguished
gentleman from New Jersey [Mr. BACHARACHl introduced
a bill, not in the same language, but to accomplish the
same result, as ar back as 1922, or 12 years ago.
[More to follow]