Senate Bill 1/Senate Bill 1437

On January 14, 1975, the first day of the 94th Congress, Sen. John McClellan, a Southern Democrat from Arkansas and chair of the Senate Judiciary committee, introduced Senate Bill 1, “The Criminal Justice Reform Act,” which was spurred by a perception that a heightened level of lawlessness had arisen in the previous decade. The bill included provisions that broadened definitions of criminal behavior, increased the powers of police to enforce those and existing criminal laws, and enhanced governmental eavesdropping capabilities. As the most sweeping bill affecting criminal justice issues since similar legislation passed in 1968, S. 1 was almost universally opposed by many civil libertarians, members of the press, and activist organizations.

It was also the subject of attack by Jim Jones, who saw it as evidence that the government was trying to establish a police state, and who preached against it on many occasions in 1975 and 1976. He added that the proposed legislation authorized the use of concentration camps for minority populations and political dissenters, as well as the abrogation of Native American treaty rights, and pointed out that the endorsement of the oppressive bill by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) demonstrated just how bankrupt the American political system was.

Even though the legislation died with the close of the 94th session at the end of 1976, it was revived as Senate Bill 1437 in the next Congress, and Jones continued to denounce it – “this successor of the notorious, fascist Senate 1” – both in his sermons in early 1977 and then in his radio news broadcasts in Jonestown.

While the second version passed the Senate in January 1978 on a 72-15 vote, the House committee to which it was referred took no action on it, and it died at the end of the 95th Congress.