Civil Rights Law

Civil rights are the protections and privileges given to all citizens by law. Discrimination occurs when the civil rights of an individual are denied or interfered with because of their membership in a particular group or class. Statutes have been enacted to prevent discrimination based on a person’s race, sex, religion, age, previous condition of servitude, physical limitation, national origin, and in some instances sexual preference.

13th & 14th Amendments

The most important expansion of civil rights in the United States was the enactment of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments. The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery throughout the United States. In response to the 13th Amendment, various states enacted “black codes” which were intended to limit the civil rights of the newly free slaves. In 1868 the 14th Amendment was passed to counter the “black codes” and ensure that no state “shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of the citizens of the United States… [or] deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, [or] deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. Congress was also given the power by section five of the Fourteenth Amendment to pass any laws needed for its enforcement.

During the “reconstruction era” that followed, Congress enacted numerous civil rights statutes. Many of these statutes are still in force today and protect individuals from discrimination and from the deprivation of their civil rights. Section 1981 of Title 42 (Equal Rights Under the Law) protects individuals from discrimination based on race in making and enforcing contracts, participating in lawsuits, and giving evidence. Other statutes, derived from acts of the reconstruction era, that protect against discrimination include: Civil Action For Deprivation of Rights, Conspiracies to Interfere With Civil Rights, Conspiracy Against Rights of Citizens, Deprivation of Rights Under Color of Law, The Jurisdictional Statue for Civil Rights Cases, Peonage Abolished.

Civil Rights Act of 1964

The most prominent civil rights legislation since reconstruction is the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Decisions of the Supreme Court at the time limited Congressional enforcement of the 14th Amendment to state action. (Since 1964 the Supreme Court has expanded the reach of the 14th Amendment in some situations to individuals discriminating on their own). Therefore, in order to reach the actions of individuals, Congress, using its power to regulate interstate commerce, enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1964 under Title 42, Public Health and Welfare, Chapter 21, Civil Rights, of the United States Code. Discrimination based on “race, color, religion, or national origin” in public establishments that had a connection to interstate commerce or that was supported by the state is prohibited. Public establishments include places of public accommodation (e.g., hotels, motels, trailer parks), restaurants, gas stations, bars, taverns, and places of entertainment in general. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and subsequent legislation also declared a strong legislative policy against discrimination in public schools and colleges which aided in desegregation. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination in federally funded programs. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits employment discrimination where the employer is engaged in interstate commerce. Congress has passed numerous other laws dealing with employment discrimination.

The judiciary, most notably the Supreme Court, plays a crucial role in interpreting the extent of the civil rights. A single Supreme Court ruling can change the very nature of a right throughout the entire country. Supreme Court decisions can also affect the manner in which Congress enacts civil rights legislation, as occurred with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The federal courts were/are crucial in mandating and supervising school desegregation programs and other programs established to rectify state or local discrimination.

State constitutions, statutes and municipal ordinances provide further protection of civil rights. The existence of civil rights and liberties are recognized internationally by numerous agreements and declarations. Often these rights are included in agreements in which nations pledge themselves to the general protection of Human Rights.

Working with Civil Rights Lawyers

Find a Civil Rights Lawyer, Attorney or Law Firm to help with your civil rights law case. Civil rights lawyers usually specialize in civil rights litigation and nothing else, which gives them exceptional experience with civil rights legal procedures, case history and anything else related to civil rights law that a civil rights attorney should be know. A civil rights attorney lawyer will take your case if you qualify and can pay their fees or in some instances on contingency. They will help you to focus on your civil rights issues and take care of your health knowing you will get through the process. Your civil rights law firm may also have referrals or resources to help with other situations related to your civil rights and will assist you in anyway they can. During your research process to find civil rights lawyers, be sure to talk to several before deciding on one that you feel comfortable with. Remember, a good civil rights attorney will have a track record of success in civil rights law litigation.