Civil Rights Law: What You Should Know as a US Citizen



Understanding Civil Rights Law

Civil rights law is an aspect of law that emphasises freedom and equality of all citizens and residents without discrimination or bigotry of any form.

It provides for the right to equal and fair handling of all persons in a society devoid of double standards as provided by law. There are classes of persons who suffer discrimination only on the bases of their gender, race, age, circumstances of birth, form or nature; the Civil rights law makes provision for their protection by offering them the protection of the law whenever they are subject to any form discrimination by others.

Civil Rights Law

Definition of civil rights laws

Civil rights laws are extant Federal and State laws applicable to every person living or resident in the society to prevent discrimination against protected characteristics such as different treatments from race in business places like restaurants and hotels; such in equal treatment will amount to a violation of civil rights laws of the United States.

Classes of civil rights law

Race and Gender are the generally known protected classes of civil rights laws. However, there is a list of other protected class of persons under the U.S. civil rights law which includes but not limited to the followings:

  • Gender
  • Color
  • Nationality
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Marriage
  • Age

Civil Rights Law

Sources of U.S. Civil Rights Law

Civil rights in the United States have evolved. The law as it is today is derived and settled from a conglomeration of Federal Legislation, State Legislation, U.S. Constitution, Judicial Precedents and various court interpretations of the law.

Differences and Similarities Between Civil Rights and Constitutional Rights

Civil rights and Constitutional rights have common characteristics in law. Constitutional rights and civil rights are precisely not the same areas of law, but they frequently overlap each other.

Constitutional rights are generally rights granted to every American by the provisions of the U.S. Constitution. For instance: the right to be free from unlawful search, seizure/abduction or the use of unwarranted force by the police, the right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment by law enforcement agents, the right to fair hearing and due process of law enshrined in the legal latin maxi of “audi alteram partem” which means “let the other side be heard”.

Due process or fair hearing mandatorily allows the other side in any matter, trial, investigation, court, tribunal, panel to be given the opportunity to say their side of the story before forfeiture of money or property, conviction by imprisonment or punished in any form.

On the other hand, Civil Rights generally protects the rights of person the in society but with emphasis on discrimination against the protected class.

Constitutional rights provide for the protection of the right of persons to be free from unjust treatment by the government while Civil rights protect the violation of human rights by both the government and private persons from discriminating against people based characteristics such as age, race or gender.

Civil Rights Law

Foremost U. S. Civil Rights Laws

  • The Equal Credit Opportunity Act: This law disallows discrimination of persons on the basis of protected characteristics in relation to accessing or issuing credit facilities.
  • The Age Discrimination Act of 1975: This legislation disallows discrimination of persons based on age for government agenda as that offer federal financial assistance.
  • Air Carrier Access Act of 1986: This enactment provides for the protection of persons with special needs and their compulsory reception by the Airline for the purpose of air transportation.
  • Americans with Disabilities Act: This law Prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in a range of places requiring public accommodation and acceptance such as employment and education.
  • Age Discrimination and Employment Act: This legislation prohibits the discrimination of persons, applicants or job seekers who are 40 years old or older.
  • Civil Rights Act of 1964: This milestone legislation proscribes the discrimination of persons based on religion, sex, race, color, and ethnic derivation in places of public accommodations.
  • Civil Rights Act of 1991: This act is an improvement of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to permit the right for litigants to make civil claims for damages due to intentional discrimination for employment.
  • Equal Pay Act of 1963: This Act disallows discriminatory remuneration and compensation in the workplace on the basis of gender. It was enacted to promote gender equality.
  • Fair Housing Act: This Act provides for the protection of persons against discrimination in transactions bothering on sale, lease, rental and financing of housing or mortgage. Discrimination under this Act may not be prevalent, but this enactment was done due to the necessity of the subject.
  • Title IX: This law prohibits discrimination against persons in places of education and learning. This legislation calls for colleges to present equal opportunities to men and women to participate in intercollegiate athletic competitions.
  • Voting Rights Act of 1965: This legislation prohibits repudiation of persons from voting or being voted for, on the bases of discrimination of any kind.

Notable Judicial Precedence of U.S. Supreme Court in Civil Rights Cases

  • Loving v. Virginia (1967): The Court held that a proscription of interracial marriage is a violation of Civil Rights.
  • Phillips v. Martin Marietta Corp (1971): The Supreme Court held that Companies could not reject nursing mothers for employment unless the father of the child will also be disallowed his job for the same reasons.
  • Heart of Atlanta Motel Inc v. the United States (1964): The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the validity and enforceability of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This judgment also prohibited Heart Atlanta motel Inc from rebuffing to rent rooms to black customers for lodging.
  • Pittsburgh Press Co. v. Pittsburg Commission on Human Relations: The decision of Court in this matter goes to outlaw companies from dividing job postings due to gender. This decision of Court was necessary because as at the time the judgment was delivered; federal jobs were posted separately either for men or for women only.
  • Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954): The Supreme Court ruled against the Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson to the extent that separate but equal facilities are discriminatory. For instance, Schools and other organisations must provide equal access and facilities for people of all races.
  • Shelley v. Kraemer (1948): The Supreme Court held that a property association could not create a restrictive covenant to prevent persons of a particular race from owning or purchasing property within a specific location.

The Budding of Civil Rights Law

The awareness and public orientation of civil rights are increasing geometrically in recent times. The practice and defence of civil rights law are also growing and evolving as lawyers and Civil Society Groups are begging to understand the need for its protection in civilised nations.

Civil rights attorneys globally are working round the clock to enhance the delivery and workings of justice systems and to pass new legislation in other to further the prohibition of discrimination of persons on the basis of protected classes.

The Legislative arm of government also has a significant role to play in the amendment and repealing of obsolete laws due to the dynamics of our sophisticated society as discriminations can now be broadcasted through unconventional mediums as provided by extant laws.

Civil Rights Law Can Be Domesticated as State Law

Generally, Civil Rights enactments are Federal laws, but State legislators are also empowered concurrently to pass laws or domesticate Federal Laws on the subject of Civil Rights to be applicable and enforceable within the State.

Some states by their enabling laws create their agencies to investigate allegations of discriminations and rights violations for employment and education case.

It is the responsibility of your Civil Rights Attorney to carefully scrutinise all jurisdictional avenues available for enforcement of civil rights whether in the state or federal agency investigations depending on the facts of the case.

The success of your Civil Rights case generally begins from knowing where and how to institute the lawsuit whether in state court actions and federal court actions.

The Practice of Civil Rights Law

Any person can seek to enforce his rights in the face of a violation all over the United States; however, Civil rights laws can be enforced better by Attorneys whose area of practice and expertise in civil rights law and they may appear before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of individual clients in private practice, they may also offer their services to work in a small town, they may also wish to work for public interest groups and in some cases pick up pro bono cases for the indigent persons.

Civil Rights Attorneys also consist of the attorneys who render legal services to investigative agencies saddled with the responsibility of enforcing civil rights laws.

Cases of Civil Rights Violations are recurrent before courts; thus attorneys who are skilled and trained to practice civil rights law may argue before the United States Supreme Court.

Some attorneys are experts focusing only on civil rights cases, while others handle mixed instances of broader civil law practice and occasionally handle civil rights violations cases.

Passion for becoming a Civil Rights Lawyer

If you desire to change the world, the law is a very viable instrument of social change. Choosing a career path to be a Civil Rights Attorney might be the right choice for you.

The decision of a court in a single civil rights case can significantly influence the whole United States justice system with the stroke of a pen.

Civil rights lawyers must be diligent and skillfully to be able to effect the desired change in the world. Civil rights lawyers are selfless persons who help individuals who are distressed by the handwork of illegal discrimination.

Retaining an Attorney for Your Civil Rights Case

Retaining the services of a first-rate attorney for your Civil Rights case is another important factor that will determine your success in court. You may read our article on Top 20 Law Firms in America.


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