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Estes Kefauver

A Love Of The Law, Political Persuasions, An Honest Man, Organized Crime, The Great Campaigner

Born July 26, 1903 (Madisonville, Tennessee)

Died August 10, 1963 (Bethesda, Maryland)

U.S. senator

Estes Kefauver was a senator from Tennessee who gained national attention as chairman of the Special Committee on Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce. Conducted by the Eighty-first and Eighty-second Congresses in 1950 and 1951, the committee was more commonly known as the "Kefauver Committee." Using the relatively new medium of television, the hearings drew public attention to the revelation that a nationwide organized crime syndicate actually existed. They also made the phrase "taking the Fifth" a part of American conversation, as many witnesses invoked their constitutional Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

The five-man committee headed by Kefauver exposed a powerful underworld made up of mobsters and corrupt politicians. The hearings began in May 1950 and lasted for fifteen months. Sessions in fourteen cities heard testimony from hundreds of witnesses about violence, corruption, and the criminal control of illegal markets. The hearings resulted in Treasury Department indictments of hundreds of lawbreakers.

"In the United States today, [many] . . . believe that if this country is to be kept great, the little man must be given an adequate opportunity and a reasonable standard of living. I'm on the side of the [these] . . . people."

The Kefauver Committee submitted four reports indicating that organized crime syndicates existed through the support Estes Kefauver. (© Bettmann/Corbis)
or tolerance of public officials. It was not until 1970, however, that Congress passed the Organized Crime Control Act to coordinate the investigation and prosecution of organized crime in America.

For More Information


Fontenay, Charles L. Estes Kefauver: A Biography. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 1980.

Hall, Kermit L. The Oxford Companion to American Law. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Kefauver, Estes. In A Few Hands: Monopoly Power in America. New York: Pantheon Books, 1965.

Web Sites

"Happy 100th Birthday, Estes Kefauver!" The University of Tennessee. http://www.lib.utk.edu/spcoll/kefauver.html (accessed on August 15, 2004).

"Kefauver, Carey Estes, 1903–1963." Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=K000044 (accessed on August 15, 2004).

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal Law