We are defenders of Civil Rights, the legal provisions that stem from notions of equality. Civil rights are not in the Bill of Rights; they deal with legal protections. The right to vote is a civil right. A civil liberty, on the other hand, refers to personal freedoms protected by the Bill of Rights. Discriminating a person because of the individual’s membership in a particular group or class is a violation of civil rights; various jurisdictions have enacted statutes 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 orientation.
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The Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution constituted the largest expansion of civil rights in the history of the United States. The Thirteenth Amendment outlawed involuntary servitude. The Fourteenth Amendment made it illegal for a state to pass laws “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.” The Fifteenth Amendment prohibits the U.S. or any state to deny a citizen the right to vote based on that person’s “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” These Amendments are called the Reconstruction Amendments because they were passed during the Reconstruction Era.
During the Reconstruction Era, Congress enacted numerous civil rights statutes. Many of these 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. See 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Other statutes, derived from acts of the reconstruction era, that protect against discrimination include: Civil Action for Deprivation of Rights (See 42 U.S.C. § 1983); Conspiracies to Interfere With Civil Rights (See 42 U.S.C. § 1985); Conspiracy Against Rights of Citizens (See 18 U.S.C. § 241); Deprivation of Rights Under Color of Law, (See 18 U.S.C. § 242); The Jurisdictional Statue for Civil Rights Cases (See 28 U.S.C. § 1443); and Peonage Abolished (See 42 U.S.C. § 1994).
The most prominent civil rights legislation since Reconstruction is the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Congress, using its power to regulate interstate commerce, enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1964 under Title 42, Chapter 21 of the United States Code. Discrimination based on “race, color, religion, or national origin” in public establishments that have a connection to interstate commerce or are supported by the state is prohibited. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000a. Public establishments include places of public accommodation (e.g., hotels, motels, and 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, as a single Supreme Court ruling can alter the recognition of a right throughout the nation. The federal courts have been crucial in mandating and supervising school desegregation programs and other programs established to rectify state or local discrimination.
The Twenty-Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1964, banned poll taxes. A poll tax is a tax imposed on anybody who votes at a polling place. Poll taxes discouraged poorer citizens from voting, disproportionately affecting minorities. As such, poll taxes interfere with the civil right of voting.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is codified in 52 U.S. Code § 10101. The act states: “All citizens of the United States who are otherwise qualified by law to vote at any election by the people . . . shall be entitled and allowed to vote at all such elections, without distinction of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
The Civil Rights Act of 1968 is also known as the Fair Housing Act. This Act protects against numerous sorts of housing discrimination, including rentals, sales, real estate transactions, and brokerage services. The Act “prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental and financing of dwellings based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin.” Congress also created housing discrimination protections for individuals with disabilities through the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. These Acts, in essence, expanded upon the scope of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Congress also expanded housing protection to the elderly in the Housing for Older Persons Act of 1995.
In addition to federal guarantees, some states provide further protection of civil rights. New York’s New York State Human Rights Law is one such example.
Numerous international agreements and declarations recognize human rights. The United States has signed some of these agreements, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Disenfranchisement refers to the removal of civil rights, primarily the the right to vote. States are able to place certain restrictions on who can vote, including restrictions based upon someone’s criminal record.
The Supreme Court affirmed in Richardson v. Ramirez, 418 U.S. 24 (1974) that under Section Two, states can prohibit convicted felons from voting after serving their prison sentence.
Vermont and Maine do not practice felon disenfranchisement; Florida, Virginia, Iowa, and Kentucky do not allow felons to vote; the other 44 states have some sort of criminal disenfranchisement law.
As an example, Florida has its felon disenfranchisement law included in its state Constitution. As such, in order to change the policy, the state would need to pass a state constitutional amendment.
The United States Constitution Chapter 21 (Civil Rights) of Title 42 of The United States Code CRS Annotated Constitution Federal Agency Regulations
28 C.F.R., Part 42 - Dept. of Justice 29 C.F.R., Chapt. XIV - Equal Employment Opportunity Commission 34 C.F.R., Chapt. I - Office for Civil Rights, Dept. of Educ. 45 C.F.R., Chapt. VII - Civil Rights Commission Federal Judicial Decisions
Recent Civil Rights Decisions Historic Constitutional Law Decisions liibulletin Oral Argument Previews U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals: Recent Decisions on Civil Rights state material
N.Y. Court of Appeals: Recent Civil Rights Decisions Commentary from liibulletin-ny Appellate Decisions from Other States International Material
Conventions and Treaties
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights International Human Rights Instruments
U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division Civil Rights Resources Human Rights Around the World AAAS Human Rights Action Network RESULTS Workplace Discrimination and Harassment (Nolo) American Civil Liberties Union Amnesty International Human Rights Watch ABA Section of Individual Rights & Responsibilities
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