Racial justice

  • July 24, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Franita Tolson, Betty T. Ferguson Professor of Voting Rights, Florida State University College of Law; Faculty Advisor, Florida State University College of Law ACS Student Chapter

    The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a landmark piece of legislation, responsible for eradicating much of the discrimination that racial minorities confronted in places of public accommodation such as hotels, restaurants and movie theatres; in seeking employment and applying for public benefits and in attending integrated public schools. Among its many accomplishments, the Act also laid the groundwork for nondiscriminatory access to the ballot. In particular, Title I of the Act provides that, “All citizens of the United States who are otherwise qualified by law to vote at any election by the people in any State, Territory, district, county, city, etc. … shall be entitled and allowed to vote at all such elections, without distinction of race, color, or previous condition of servitude ....” Despite a promising start, this provision quickly fell into relative obscurity because the Voting Rights Act of 1965, passed a little over a year after Title I, imposed more stringent restrictions on racial discrimination in voting.

    Recent cases illustrate that the time has come to revisit Title I of the Civil Rights Act.  In Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court invalidated section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act which, together with section 5, required certain jurisdictions to preclear all changes to their electoral laws with the federal government before the changes could go into effect. The preclearance regime was a type of federal receivership for jurisdictions, mostly in the south, that had pervasively discriminated against African Americans in order to ensure that any new laws would not undermine minority voting rights. In the year since Shelby County, the loss of the preclearance regime has forced advocates to be more aggressive in using creative legal arguments in voting rights litigation. For example, in Frank v. Walker, a federal district court judge invalidated Wisconsin’s voter identification law, the first successful challenge to these restrictions using section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Section 2 prohibits states from abridging the right to vote on the basis of race and applies nationwide.

    Like section 2, Title I of the Civil Rights Act stands as a possible litigation alternative to the preclearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act. In addition to its general requirement of nondiscriminatory access to the ballot, section 2(A) of Title I provides that, “No person acting under color of law shall in determining whether any individual is qualified under State law or laws to vote in any election, apply any standard, practice, or procedure different from the standards, practices, or procedures applied under such law or laws to other individuals within the same county, parish, or similar political subdivision who have been found by State officials to be qualified to vote.” This provision prevents states from applying voter qualification standards differently to similarly situated individuals. 

  • July 23, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Veronica JoiceFried Frank Fellow, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund

    *This piece was originally published at NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

    *Noting the 50th anniversaries of Freedom Summer and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, ACSblog is hosting a symposium including posts and interviews from some of the nation’s leading scholars and civil rights activists.

    Veronica Joice wrote a special introduction for ACSBlog:

    This year, we honor the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  As we take time to recognize the work that went into getting the Act passed, and the important precedents set by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) and others who litigated Title VII cases in the years immediately following the Act’s passage, we also must look to the future, and recognize the continuing need for Title VII litigation to challenge a plethora of discriminatory employment practices.

    Title VII, one of the key components of the Civil Rights Act, outlawed employment discrimination for nearly all employers and created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).  Today, unfortunately, Title VII is just as important a tool for combatting discrimination as it was 50 years ago.  Many black employees continue to face explicit race- and color-based discrimination, as in the case of Nicole Cogdell, a top-performing manager at a national retail chain who was fired after company executives expressed concern that, as an African American, Nicole did not fit the company’s “brand image.”  In other cases, African Americans never even have the opportunity to become managers at their jobs—the EEOC African American Workgroup, created in 2010, found that African-American employees were less likely to be offered supervisory opportunities than white males, which hindered their ability to later receive promotions to management-level positions.  And, perhaps most tellingly, the unemployment rate for African Americans is consistently no less than double that of whites—10.7 percent and 4.9 percent, respectively, as of June 2014.

    These examples leave no doubt that, from cases involving blatant racism to those where seemingly neutral policies effectively close many African Americans out of the job market, racial discrimination persists in the workplace today.  For every case like Nicole Cogdell’s, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of others who are excluded from employment opportunities due to poor performance on a test that has no bearing on the applicant’s ability to perform the required work or by an employer’s review of credit history before making a job offer. LDF helped set the precedent that states that such facially neutral policies are discriminatory and unlawful if they disproportionately exclude African American job applicants. Today, LDF continues to challenge both overt and hidden forms of discrimination, including recently testifying in support of legislation to limit the use of credit checks in hiring. During this year of reflection, we must remember that Title VII’s work is not done—employment discrimination lives on, and there are still precedents to be set.

  • July 22, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Remington A. Gregg, Legislative Counsel, Human Rights Campaign

    *Noting the 50th anniversaries of Freedom Summer and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, ACSblog is hosting a symposium including posts and interviews from some of the nation’s leading scholars and civil rights activists.

    As we pause to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, one of the most important pieces of legislation ever passed into law, it is a perfect time to look at the many ways it paved the way for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.  Not only did passage pave the way for additional pieces of civil rights legislation, including Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, but it marked a sizeable shift in the use of the commerce clause.  To LGBT movement, however, the Civil Rights Act marked the beginning of the LGBT community’s own fight for equality. 

    The long march toward LGBT equality gained momentum with Romer v. Evans in 1996, where the Supreme Court held that an amendment to the Colorado state constitution that would forbid the state or its subdivisions from extending legal protections to LGB people violated the Equal Protection Clause.  In 2003, in Lawrence v. Texas, the Supreme Court ruled affirmatively for the first time on a due process claim brought by gay claimants that LGBT people “are entitled to respect for their private lives.  The state cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime.  Their right to liberty under the Due Process Clause gives them the full right to engage in their conduct without intervention of the government.”  And last year’s critical decision in United States v. Windsor changed the whole landscape in the LGBT community’s access to important federal benefits.   The Court held that Section 3 of the “Defense of Marriage Act,” which defined marriage as a “union between one man and one woman as husband and wife” for federal purposes, was an unconstitutional infringement on equal protection as applied to the federal government under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.  Now, LGBT couples have access to more than 1,100 rights, benefits, and obligations previously denied to them.

    Each of these cases has served as a vital building block in the fight for equality. These successes have been paralleled with incredible legislative and administrative victories, including the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, and an LGBT-inclusive Violence Against Women’s Act re-authorization. And yesterday, President Barack Obama signed an important executive order.  First, it prohibits federal contractors from discriminating in employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.  Second, it protects federal employees from discrimination on the basis of gender identity.  (President Bill Clinton signed an executive order that provided protections with regard to sexual orientation.)

  • July 18, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Gabriel J. Chin, Professor of Law, UC Davis School of Law

    *Noting the 50th anniversaries of Freedom Summer and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, ACSblog is hosting a symposium including posts and interviews from some of the nation’s leading scholars and civil rights activists.

    Practicing the art of the possible rather than seeking perfection may be an inevitable feature of civil rights legislation. Even the greatest and most honored laws have loopholes; the Thirteenth Amendment, for example, allows slavery based on conviction of crime, any crime, and the exception was liberally exploited in the former Confederacy after Redemption. The Fifteenth Amendment seems to countenance discrimination on the basis of sex, and a protection in earlier versions of the right to hold office was stripped out before enactment.        

    Nevertheless, I’ll take them; I do not criticize the Reconstruction Amendments or their makers for being merely as good as was possible at the time. Similarly, it would not have been better to give up what was good in the 1964 Act simply because of its deficiencies. At the same time, recognizing a law’s compromises and gaps is essential to understanding its real import, and to thinking about how policy can be shaped to fully reflect the principle at stake.

    Among the important compromises in the bill are exemptions from the employment discrimination prohibition of Title VII for businesses of less than 15 people, and the exemption from the Public Accommodations provision of Title II for small, owner-occupied motels and lodging establishments. Presumably, these exceptions exist for the benefit of racists who grew up in a racist system through no fault of their own. Congress might reasonably have concluded that forcing close contact between racial minorities and these racists might have been more trouble than it was worth.  But these exemptions should have been time-limited; at this point, all but the oldest business owners spent their entire lives, or at least their adulthoods, in a nation were discrimination has clearly been against the law and public policy. The case for continued compromise of the policy is not obvious.

    Another major gap in the Civil Rights Act is the lack of protection against discrimination of members of the LGBTQ community. Clearly, this was no oversight. The desegregation struggle was to some degree a Cold War propaganda effort. Fair treatment on the basis of race was a “cold war imperative,” and so too was controlling the potentially subversive effects of sexual minorities. Thus, the 1965 Immigration Act, a close cousin of the Civil Rights Act, eliminated discrimination on the basis of race in immigration law, but simultaneously clarified and strengthened a prohibition on gay and lesbian immigration. The Civil Rights Act makes little sense unless it recognizes a fundamental human dignity and equality. The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act closed unjustified gaps in the coverage of the original law, and the prohibition on gay immigration is gone. Continuing to allow discrimination against gays and lesbians in the Civil Rights Act is indefensible.

  • July 17, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Jin Hee Lee, LDF Senior Counsel, NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund

    *This piece was originally published in The Courier-Journal

    *Noting the 50th anniversaries of Freedom Summer and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, ACSblog is hosting a symposium including posts and interviews from some of the nation’s leading scholars and civil rights activists.

    Jin Hee Lee wrote a special introduction for ACSBlog:

    The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a remarkable legislative achievement during a period of time in our Nation’s history when brave men and women literally risked their lives in pursuit of justice.  In the face of violence from white supremacists and segregationist mobs, civil rights heroes like Medger Evers and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., demanded that the United States fulfill its constitutional promise of equality for all Americans.  Yet, despite tremendous progress over the past 50 years, we still have a long road ahead in order to achieve the Civil Rights Act’s vision of equality.  Racially segregated schools continue to plague our public school system, and mass incarceration has wreaked havoc in the lives of too many African American families.  The catastrophic effects of the Great Recession have been felt all across the country, but have been particularly devastating to African Americans, who encounter even more barriers to gainful employment.  And, just last year, a deeply divided Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that had been instrumental in protecting minorities’ right to vote.  As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, we must also honor its legacy by continuing the struggle for freedom and equality so that, one day, racial justice can truly be achieved.  

    The passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 years ago was a monumental feat of bipartisan legislation during a crucial phase of American history. Only 10 years earlier, the United States Supreme Court denounced state-sanctioned racial segregation in the landmark decision Brown v. Board of Education. In the following years, untold numbers of American heroes risked their lives to end Jim Crow laws, with the moral conviction that "equality" is not a mere abstract term, but must necessarily be a lived experience. The Freedom Riders, the bus boycotters, the sitters in lunch counters — black and white, young and old — all were bonded by a common vision of an America that could, despite its flawed origins, embrace the equality and humanity of all its citizens.

    The implementation of this vision came at a heavy cost, especially in the years leading up to the Civil Rights Act.