It is a little-known and disturbing fact that the Supreme Court is in the process of gutting what may be the most important civil rights statute Congress has ever passed. It is particularly distressing that the harm is being done by a largely unanimous court—and that, other than a few legal scholars, no one seems to be paying any attention.
The statute in question is Section 1983 of the United States Code, which was enacted in 1871 as part of Reconstruction. Section 1983 enables people to bring suits in federal court to enforce the rights created by the Fourteenth Amendment—which, among other things, prohibits state officials from depriving persons of due process and equal protection of the law. The law was designed to provide a federal remedy against officials who violated the rights of the newly freed slaves or who stood by while others, like the Ku Klux Klan, did so. Specifically, it authorizes individuals to sue in federal court “any person who under color of law” violates their constitutional rights. The purposes of the law are to compensate persons whose constitutional rights have been violated and to deter future violations. Actions brought under Section 1983 are known as constitutional tort suits.