The term “civil rights” refers to the rights of all Americans to equal treatment under law. The history of civil rights in America is the struggle of various groups to be free from discriminatory treatment.
Before 1863, the Constitution protected slavery. In Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857), the Supreme Court provided its support for the institution of slavery and ruled that slaves were not citizens nor entitled to the rights and privileges of citizenship. President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and the passage of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution ended constitutional support for inequality. The Thirteenth Amendment prohibited slavery. The Fourteenth Amendment stated, among other things, that no state could deny any person equal protection of the laws. The Fifteenth Amendment stated that the right to vote could not be abridged because of race. Although these are considered routine protections today, at the time these ideas were revolutionary.
From 1865-1875, the Republican-controlled Congress passed several civil rights acts. The Supreme Court ruled these acts unconstitutional, concluding that the Constitution prohibited only state discrimination, not the discriminatory acts of individuals. One of the most significant of the Court’s decisions was Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), in which the doctrine of “separate but equal” was given constitutional approval. “Separate but equal” was an oxymoronic device in which states would require separate facilities and opportunities for the different races while maintaining the facade of equality. The states also found ways to prevent African-Americans from exercising their newly-granted right to vote. When federal troops that occupied the South were withdrawn in 1877, these states imposed any number of devices intended to restrict the right to vote, including the grandfather clause, poll taxes, and literacy tests. The white primary was finally ruled unconstitutional in the 1944 case of Smith v. Allwright.
The end to the separate but equal doctrine and racial segregation began in the 1930s with a series of lawsuits designed to admit African-Americans to graduate and professional schools. These lawsuits culminated in the unanimous Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka in 1954, which ruled that public school segregation of the races violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court concluded that separate is inherently unequal. In reaction to this decision, state governments sought loopholes in the decision and society witnessed a tremendous increase in private, often religion-based schools. The early attempts to integrate schools often relied on court-ordered busing of students across neighborhoods. Recently, the federal courts have returned authority to local school officials, as in Missouri v. Jenkins (1995), which allowed Missouri to stop financing a magnet school for racial integration.
The Civil Rights Movement
The Brown decision was a moral victory, but did little to change the underlying structure of segregation. In 1955, an African-American woman named Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white man. She was arrested and fined. Thus began the civil rights protests that would eventually end racial segregation. Martin Luther King, Jr., a Baptist minister, organized a yearlong boycott of the Montgomery, Alabama bus line, the success of which propelled King to national leadership of the civil rights movement. The culmination of the movement came in 1963, when Dr. King, with the intent to spark support for civil rights legislation, led a march on Washington D.C. and gave his famous “I have a dream” speech.
In passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Congress created the most far-reaching bill on civil rights in modern times. This legislation targeted discrimination in the areas of public accommodations such as hotels and restaurants. This was followed the next year by the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which eliminated discriminatory voter-registration laws and authorized federal officials to register voters, primarily in the South. Subsequent amendments to the Voting Rights Act granted protections, such as bilingual ballots, to other minorities. Although there is increased voting participation among all minorities, there are lingering social and economic disparities. The Civil Rights Act of 1968 banned discrimination in housing.
Women’s Struggle for Equal Rights
Women first became involved politically in the movement to abolish slavery. From this effort, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton organized the first women’s rights convention in 1848. The 1870 campaign to ratify the Fifteenth Amendment giving voting rights to African-American men split the women’s suffrage movement. However, women successfully campaigned for passage of the Nineteenth Amendment which enfranchised women and was ratified in 1920. See Table 5-1 for the year that women gained the right to vote in other countries.
After achieving the right to vote, women engaged in little political activity until the 1960s, when the feminist movement called for political, economic, and social equality for women. The feminist movement attempted to obtain the ratification of an Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s, but the necessary 38 states failed to ratify. After this defeat the women’s movement turned its attention to increasing the number of women in government. Political Action Committees were created to fund women candidates. Although no major political party has nominated a woman for president, women have run for the vice-presidency and serve as members of the cabinet and the Supreme Court. Women have been elected governors of major states, mayors of large cities, and compose about twenty-two percent of state legislatures. In 2002 Nancy Pelosi of California became the leader of the Democratic Party in the United States House of Representatives.
Gender-Based Discrimination in the Workplace
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited gender discrimination in employment, including sexual harassment. In 1991, it became apparent that these laws were not being vigorously enforced when Anita Hill charged Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas with sexual harassment. The publicity from this encounter resulted in a heightened awareness of the issue and an increasing number of cases dealing with sexual harassment. Supreme Court cases like Faragher v. City of Boca Raton (1998) and Burlington Industries v. Ellerth (1998) established that employers and employees were liable for sexual harassment if they did not exercise reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any sexually harassing behavior. Another important issue for women in the workplace has been wage discrimination. Although the Equal Pay Act of 1963 was designed to provide for equal pay, a woman earns about seventy-eight cents for every dollar earned by a man. Some of the key reasons for this are the low pay for jobs traditionally held by women, such as child care, and the corporate “glass ceiling” that prevents women from reaching the highest executive positions in business.
Immigration, Hispanics and Civil Rights
Today, immigration rates are the highest they have been since their peak in the early twentieth century. Since 1977, more than eighty percent of immigrants have come from Latin America or Asia. In recent years the nation has become focused on the question of illegal immigration and what should be done about it. The majority of people entering the United States illegally come from Mexico in search of work. In addition to the argument that they are taking jobs from American citizens, another controversial aspect of their presence involves the demands that illegal immigrants and their families place on social and medical services. Lawmakers are dramatically split over the issue of how to treat those in the country illegally, with some calling for amnesty, others creating a schedule by which they could become citizens and still other lawmakers demanding that they be returned to their home countries. Another issue concerns the education of those who are in this country with little or no English skills. Both Congress and the Supreme Court in the past have supported the rights of those who require bilingual education. In recent years, however, resentment and resistance has grown over the issue of bilingual education, as demonstrated by California passing a ballot initiative that would end bilingual education in the state.
Affirmative Action is a policy designed to give special consideration to traditionally disadvantaged groups in an effort to overcome the present effect of past discrimination. This policy was challenged in 1978 case of University of California v. Bakke, which involved admission policies at UC-Davis Medical School. Alan Bakke argued that the affirmative action plan that used a racial quota was reverse discrimination against those who do not have minority status. The Supreme Court agreed, although its decision was complex. While the divided Court stated that quotas were unacceptable in making admissions decisions, it also stated that race could be considered, along with many other factors, in shaping a student body that would possess the attribute of diversity. A lower federal court expressed its disagreement with the Supreme Court in Hopwood v. Texas (1996), ruling that any use of race in making admissions decisions violated the Fourteenth Amendment. However, in 2003 the Supreme Court upheld the admission policy of the University of Michigan law school, which took race into account as part of a complete examination of each applicant’s background.
Special Protection for Older Americans
Age discrimination is potentially the most widespread form of discrimination because it can affect everyone at some point in life. Congress passed the Age Discrimination Employment Act in 1967. This law protects workers over the age of 40 and an amendment to the law passed in 1978 prohibited mandatory retirement of most workers under the age of 70. Older citizens tend to be active in the political process and have created a powerful interest group, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), to protect their interests.
Securing Rights for Persons with Disabilities
Landmark legislation to protect the rights of persons with disabilities was achieved with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). This law requires employers to “reasonably accommodate” the needs of persons with disabilities. While many applaud the objective of allowing those with disabilities to reach their full potential, critics focus on the costs of complying with, and the difficulty of interpreting, the ADA.
The Rights and Status of Gay Males and Lesbians
The “Stonewall Riot” in 1969, in which homosexuals clashed with police after a raid at a gay bar, created the movement for gay and lesbian rights. This movement has produced changes in state laws concerning sexual relations between consenting adults and in some areas has prompted special laws against gay and lesbian discrimination. The gay rights agenda was dealt a serious blow with the Supreme Court’s decision in Bowers v. Hardwick (1986). In this case a closely divided Court ruled that the Constitution did not protect the rights of homosexuals to engage in consensual sexual activities, thus clearing the way for states to continue to enact and enforce laws that made homosexual relations a crime. The Bowers decision was overturned by the Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas (2003), when the Court ruled that consensual sexual activity between homosexuals was a liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.
The growth of the political activity of gays has not escaped the notice of politicians. Conservatives have generally been against gay rights, while liberals have supported gay rights. President Clinton in 1997 became the first sitting president to address a gay rights organization. President Clinton was a leading force in developing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy to allow gays and lesbians to have careers in the military.
Probably, the most controversial aspect of gay rights today is same-sex marriage. The Hawaii Supreme Court took the first step in the controversy in the 1990’s by interpreting its constitution to protect same-sex marriage in its state. The concern over whether this precedent might make its way to the mainland prompted Congress to enact the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. This legislation defined marriage for federal purposes as the union of a man and a woman and allowed states to refuse to recognize the legitimacy of same-sex marriages performed in other states. While many states have enacted legislation limiting marriage to the union of a man and a woman, others, such as Vermont and Connecticut, have created a special category for gays known as civil unions. The Massachusetts Supreme Court has ruled that civil unions don’t go far enough and indicated that same-sex couples have the right to marry. The debate continues, with some arguing that there is a need for a constitutional amendment providing a final resolution of the controversy.
The Rights and Status of Juveniles
Children have generally not been accorded the same legal protection as adults, based on the assumption that parents will provide for and protect their children. The Supreme Court has slowly expanded the rights of children in a wide range of situations. The Twenty-Sixth Amendment, ratified in 1971, granted the right to vote to citizens who are eighteen years old. The fact that eighteen years olds could be drafted and sent to fight and possibly die in Vietnam was a key factor in lowering the voting age. In civil and criminal cases, the age of majority, the right to manage one’s own affairs and have full enjoyment of civil rights, varies from eighteen to twenty-one years, depending on the state. In criminal cases, the assumption of common law is that children from seven to fourteen years cannot commit a crime because they are not mature enough to understand what they are doing. In the past decade a number of high-profile crimes committed by children have caused some state officials to consider lowering the age at which a juvenile may be tried as an adult and faced with adult penalties, including the death penalty.
Other resources A number of valuable supplements are available to students using the Schmidt, Shelley, and Bardes text. The full list of the supplements is in the preface to this study guide. Ask your instructor how to obtain these resources. One supplement is highlighted here, the INFOTRAC Online Library.
Log on to http://www.infotrac-college.com.
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“The Race Case”
The premise of this article is that President Bush’s opposition to affirmative action will not bring about integration of our society. Segregation of African Americans in housing in many major U.S. cities is a fact of life.
What is the main premise of the author regarding segregation of housing in major U.S. cities?
Do you agree with the author’s analysis?
(Answers appear at the end of this chapter.)
Fill-in-the-Blank Supply the missing word(s) or term(s) to complete the sentence.
In ____________________, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of slavery.
The constitutional principle that permitted racial segregation was called the ____________ _____ ____________ doctrine.
The solution to both de facto and de jure segregation of schools was ___________________.
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s philosophy of _________________________ included such tactics as demonstrations and marches.
The ________ _________ ______ of 1964 was the most far-reaching civil rights bill in modern times.
The _________ _________ ______ of 1965 outlawed discriminatory voter-registration tests.
The lack of women in the top professional and business jobs is referred to as the ________ _______.
The issue of ______________ ________________ was addressed in the case of Bakke v. University ofCalifornia..
9. Initially, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act did not address the issue of ___________________ __________________.
10. The reason for the lack of rights in our society for children is the presumption that children are protected by their ______________.
True/False Circle the appropriate letter to indicate if the statement is true or false.
T F 1. The case of Plessy v. Ferguson upheld the doctrine of separate but equal.
T F 2. The Reconstruction statutes after the Civil War helped to secure civil rights for African-Americans equal to those of whites.
T F 3. Concentrations of minorities in defined geographic locations results in de facto segregation.
T F 4. The era of civil rights protests in the mid 1950s began with the boycott of public bus transportation in Montgomery, Alabama.
T F 5. The white primary was used in southern states to deny African-Americans the right to vote.
T F 6. The Supreme Court’s decision in Bakke declared all affirmative action programs unconstitutional.
T F 7. Affirmative Action is a policy to “level the playing field” for groups that have been discriminated against in the past.
T F 8. Individuals with AIDS are covered under the American with Disabilities Act of 1990.
T F 9. The Supreme Court ruled that consensual homosexual sexual relations are protected by the Constitution in Lawrence v. Texas.
T F 10. If an individual is legally a minor, he or she cannot be held responsible for any contracts signed.
Multiple-Choice Circle the correct response.
The Dred Scott case
freed the slaves in the South.
contributed to a more peaceful resolution of the slavery issue.
contributed to making the Civil War inevitable.
provided full and equal citizenship for all African Americans.
Short Essay Answers
An adequate short answer consists of several paragraphs that relate to concepts raised by the question. Always demonstrate your knowledge of the ideas by giving examples. The following represent major ideas that should be included in these short essays.
Explain the impact on education of the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka and discuss what new problems the decision fostered.
The concept of separate but equal from Plessy v. Ferguson was overturned.
The order to implement “with all deliberate speed” was used as a loophole by state officials to slow the pace of integration of schools.
School integration in Little Rock, Arkansas, was blocked by use of the state’s National Guard.
President Eisenhower federalized the Arkansas National Guard and integrated schools in Little Rock.
De jure segregation is illegal under the Brown decision.
De facto segregation, because of housing patterns, is dealt with by busing to achieve integration.
Explain the major issues of gender discrimination in the workplace.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits gender discrimination in the workplace.
One major issue is sexual harassment. Sexual harassment has been extended to the employer who does nothing to stop sexual harassment by an employee through court decisions in Faragher v. City of Boca Raton (1998) and Burlington Industries v. Ellerth (1998).
Second major issue is wage discrimination. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 prohibits unequal pay for men and women doing the same job. Comparable worth is the concept that takes into account skill, effort, and responsibility to determine pay because traditional “women’s” jobs pay less than traditional “men’s” jobs. Women have a harder time getting high corporate positions because of the “glass ceiling.”
Examine the concept of affirmative action. Discuss the important Supreme Court cases defining this concept.
Affirmative action is special consideration or treatment of disadvantaged groups in an effort to overcome present effects of past discrimination.
Bakke v. University of California Regents (1978) ruled on the concept of reverse discrimination against those who do not have minority status. The Court ruled that specific quotas are unconstitutional but affirmative action was constitutional.
Hopwood v. State of Texas (1996) ruled that race and other factors could not be used for determining admission to professional school. However, this was not the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, but rather, a decision of a lower federal court.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 2003 ruled that the University of Michigan law school’s affirmative action program, in which race was one factor considered among many other factors in order to ensure a diverse student body, was constitutional.
Describe the current rights of juveniles in both civil and criminal areas.
Juveniles do not have the legal rights of adults because it is assumed that parents will protect their children.
The Supreme Court has ruled that children are “persons” under the meaning of the Bill of Rights, but may enjoy less protection in specific situations.
The rights of juveniles depend upon the age of majority. This concept means the age at which a person is entitled by law to manage his or her own affairs and have full civil rights. This varies from 18- to 21-years-old depending upon the state.
In civil cases, juveniles cannot be held responsible for contracts, unless it is for necessaries (things necessary for subsistence as determined by the court).
In criminal cases, juveniles do not have the same due process rights as adults, but usually do not face the same penalties. In common law, it is presumed that children under fourteen do not understand the nature of their crimes. Recent mass murders by children under fourteen at a school in Jonesboro,
Arkansas, have prompted some to reexamine when a child may be tried as an adult and receive adult punishment, even the death penalty.