Back to De Anza College Home Robert Stockwell
De Anza College | Faculty Directory

Chapter 5: Civil Rights

Civil Rights
• Rights rooted in the 14th Amendments’ guarantee of equal protection under the law (equal treatment)
– Recall civil liberties as limits on government action
• What the government must do to ensure equal protection
• What the government must do to ensure freedom from discrimination
• History of civil rights – struggle of groups to free themselves from discriminatory treatment (African Americans, women, elderly, homosexuals, etc.)
• Key cases: Dred Scott v. Sanford; Plessy v. Ferguson; Brown v. Board of Education

Constitution and Slavery

• In apportioning congressional representation based on population, the constitution refers to free persons and “other persons” (or slaves)
• For purposes of representation, a slave was equal to 3/5 of a free person
• Supreme Court confirms constitutionality of slavery in Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857)
– Slaves not citizens of US
– Not entitled to rights/privileges of citizenship
• Constitutional servitude ends with Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation (1863) and passage of 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments during Reconstruction period following Civil War

Civil War Amendments

• End constitutional inequality
• 13th Amendment (1865) – neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall exist in the United States
• 14th Amendment (1868) – all persons born or naturalized in the United State are citizens of the United States
– States cannot abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens
– All persons (whether or not they are citizens) are entitled to due process
– All persons are entitled to equal protection
• Citizens have political rights (vote, run for office); all persons (whether citizen or not) have a right to due process and equal protection
• 15th Amendment (1870) – the right to vote shall not be denied because of race, color or previous condition of servitude

Civil Rights Acts of 1865 to 1875

• Aimed at enforcing 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments
• Civil Rights Act (1866)
– Extended citizenship to anyone born in the United States
– Gave African Americans full equality before the law
– Authorized the president to enforce the act through use of force
• Enforcement Act (1870)
– Set out specific penalties for interfering with the right to vote

Civil Rights Acts, cont.

• Anti-Ku Klux Klan Act (1872)
– Made it a federal crime to use law or custom to deprive an individual of his or her rights, privileges, and immunities secured by the Constitution and federal law
• Second Civil Rights Act (1875)
– Everyone is entitled to full and equal enjoyment of public accommodations, theaters, and other places of public amusement
– Imposed penalties for violators
• End of Reconstruction comes in 1877 when the North withdrew troops from the South

Nullification of Civil Rights Acts

• Reconstruction statutes, civil rights acts did little to secure legal equality for African Americans
• Civil Rights Cases (1883)
– Supreme Court rules that the 14th amendment only prevents official discriminatory acts by states, not by private individuals
– Met with widespread approval throughout the U.S.
• Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)
– Supreme Court ruled that segregation did not violate the 14th Amendment
– Established the separate-but-equal doctrine
– Provided constitutional justification for racial discrimination/segregation throughout the U.S.
– In the South, Jim Crow laws solidified segregation (separate drinking fountains, seats in theaters, restaurants, hotels, restrooms, waiting rooms, etc.)

Barriers to African American Voting

• White primary – state primary election in which only whites may vote
– Allowed because Southern politicians claimed political parties were private entities
– Wasn’t outlawed by the Supreme Court until Smith v. Allwright (1944!)
• Grandfather clause – restricting voting to individuals who could prove that their grandfathers had voter prior to 1867
– Used to exempt whites from poll taxes
– Used to exempt whites from literacy tests

Barriers to African American Voting, cont.

• Poll taxes – required the payment of a fee to vote
– Intended to disenfranchise poor African Americans
– Outlawed in national elections by the 24th amendment
– Outlawed in all elections by the Supreme Court in 1966
• Literacy tests – required potential voters to read, recite or interpret complicated texts
– Intended to disenfranchise African Americans
• Barriers (white primaries, grandfather clauses, poll taxes, and literacy tests) were quite effective at disenfranchising African Americans
– Note: the U.S. didn’t achieve universal suffrage (i.e., become fully democratic) until the Voting Rights Act (1965)

Ending Legal Segregation

• Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954) – Supreme Court rules public school segregation violates the 14th Amendment
– Chief Justice Earl Warren claims separation implies inferiority
– Overturns Plessy v. Ferguson
• Brown v. Board of Education (1955) – orders desegregation “with all deliberate speed”
• De facto segregation = racial segregation due to past social and economic conditions and residential patterns
• De jure segregation = racial segregation due to laws or administrative decisions by public authorities
• Court–ordered busing – transporting African American children to white schools and white children to African American schools to eliminate school segregation based on residential patterns, met with considerable resistance
• Today, many schools are segregated; little public or court support for integration efforts

Civil Rights Movement

• Key developments
– Rosa Parks, Montgomery, Alabama 1955
– Martin Luther King leads bus boycott
– King’s philosophy of nonviolent civil disobedience to achieve racial justice
– Formation of Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)
– Birmingham protest, 1963
– March on Washington, 1963
• King’s “I Have a Dream” speech
– Black Power movement
• Malcolm X
• Violent response to non-violent protest movement produced groundswell of support

Modern Civil Rights Legislation

• Civil Rights Act of 1964
– Most far-reaching in modern times
– Forbade discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, gender and national origin in
• Voter registration
• Public accommodations
• Public schools
– Expanded the power of the Civil Rights Commission
– Withheld funds from programs administered in a discriminatory way
– Established the right to equality of opportunity in employment (created the EEOC)

Modern Civil Rights Legislation, cont.

• Voting Rights Act of 1965
– Outlawed discriminatory voter registration tests
– Authorized federal registration and administration of voting where discrimination took place
– Resulted in massive voter registration drive of African Americans in the South
– Led to increasing political participation on the part of African Americans in voting and holding office
– Increased participation of other minorities as well
• Civil Rights Act of 1968
– Forbade discrimination in housing, mortgage-lending

Immigration and Civil Rights

• Immigration rates today are historically high
– One million/year immigrate to the U.S.
– Foreign-born constitute 10% of population
• High rate of immigration
– Positive effects = expand work force; help support government programs
• Increasing blurring of racial lines
– Significant for civil rights agenda because government has traditionally used racial categories to determine benefits and track trends
– Government now uses 6th mixed census category (in addition to white, black, American Indian, Alaskan native, and Asian/Pacific Islander)
• Questions: Is a high rate of immigration a problem?  Should the government ask/track racial identification?  Is it possible to promote equality without this data?

Charges of

Discrimination EEOC 2002
Still a long way to go…

Women’s Struggle for Equal Rights

• Women’s Suffrage Movement
– Connected to the abolition movement
– Suffragists organized the first women’s right convention at Seneca Falls, NY in 1848
– Established women’s suffrage associations
– Finally won passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920

U.S. in Comparative Perspective, Table 5-1, 111

Women’s Struggle for Equal Rights, cont.

• Question: How many of you are feminists?
• Modern Women’s Movement
– Feminism = political, economic, and social equality for women
– Connected to Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s
– Spurred by the publication of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique (1963)
– National Organization for Women formed (1966)
– Argued for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA)
• Failed to win the necessary states for ratification
– Targeted gender discrimination by challenging policies and laws in federal courts
– Advocated and encouraged an increasingly prominent role for women in government and politics, with some success

Gender-Based Discrimination in the Workplace

• Gender discrimination = any practice, policy or procedure that denies equal treatment to an individual or group based on gender
– Prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
– Applies even to “protective policies,” policies designed to protect women of child-bearing age
• Sexual harassment = unwanted physical or verbal conduct or abuse of a sexual nature that interferes with a recipient’s job performance, creates a hostile environment, or carries an implicit or explicit threat of adverse employment consequences
• Wage discrimination = women earn 76 cents for every $1.00 earned by men despite the Equal Pay Act requiring equal pay for equal work
• Glass ceiling = phenomenon of women holding few of the top positions in professions or businesses
• Question: What additional policies are needed to promote gender equality?

Affirmative Action

• Affirmative Action = a policy in admissions or hiring that gives special consideration to traditionally disadvantaged groups to overcome present effects of past discrimination
– Original aimed at advancing women and “minorities”
– Goes beyond strict interpretation of equal protection
• Regents of CA v. Bakke (1978)
– Bakke argued UC Davis affirmative action policy constituted “reverse discrimination,” discriminates against those who do not have minority status
– Court does not rule against affirmative action
– Rules that race can be considered as a factor in admissions, just not the only factor
• Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Peña (1995) – requires “strict scrutiny,” must be tailored to meet a compelling state interest
• Other recent cases have upheld constitutionality of affirmative action programs
• CA’s passage of Proposition 209 (1996) outlawed affirmative action programs in all state-sponsored institutions (e.g., hiring and college admissions)
• Question: Should affirmative action be extended or abolished?
• Question: Is bilingual education a civil rights issue? (note: CA banned bilingual education in 1998)

Aging Population

Special Protection for Older Americans

• Older Americans not protected against discrimination by Civil Rights Act
• Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) (1967)
– Prohibits discrimination on the basis of age unless age is shown to be a bona fide occupational qualification
• Mandatory Retirement
– Forced retirement when a person reaches a certain age
– Prohibited forced retirement for employees under 70 in most occupations by an amendment to the ADEA (1978)

Securing Rights for Persons with Disabilities

• Like older Americans, persons with disabilities not protected from discrimination by Civil Rights Act
• Protection afforded through Rehabilitation Act, Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, and Education for All Handicapped Children Act
• Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (1990)
– Requires all public buildings and services be accessible to persons with disabilities
– Requires employers make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities
– Defines “disabilities” as physical or mental impairments that substantially limit everyday activities (e.g., blindness, alcoholism, heart disease, cancer, HIV/AIDS, etc.)
– Conditions that can be medically corrected (medication, glasses) do not fall under ADA

Rights and Status of Gay Males and Lesbians

• Question: Should homosexuals have the same rights as heterosexuals?
• Gay rights movement for equal rights and protections grew in aftermath of Stonewall incident
– “the shot heard round the homosexual world”
• In decades past, most states had anti-sodomy laws; now considered unconstitutional
– Supreme Court upheld a law in Bowers v. Hardwick (1986) that made homosexual conduct between two adults a crime
– Court ruled in Lawrence v. Texas that such laws violate 14th amendment’s due process law
• Now 12 states and 230 municipalities have laws protecting homosexuals from discrimination

Outstanding Issues

• Gays in the Military
– Clinton (1993) policy “don’t ask, don’t tell”
• Same-sex Marriages
– Highly controversial
– Various states have made movements along these lines
– Still highly controversial issue
– Conflict over definition of marriage
• Child Custody and Adoption
– Courts now no longer deny custody or visitation to persons solely on the basis of sexual orientation

Rights and Status of Juveniles

• Parents viewed as protectors of children’s rights
• 26th amendment grants 18-21 year olds the right to vote
• Most contracts entered into by minors cannot be enforced
• Parents can be held liable for minor’s negligent actions
• Minors are sometimes viewed as incapable of criminal intent
• When minors are tried as adults, they are afforded the same protections, but are subject to adult penalties (including the death penalty)

Discussion Questions

• What should the government’s responsibility be when equal protection under the law is not enough to ensure truly equal opportunities for Americans?
• What still needs to be done in the area of civil rights to achieve greater equality of opportunity and protection from discrimination?

Hot Links to Internet Resources

• Book’s Companion Site:
• Wadsworth’s Political Science Site:
• American Civil Liberties Union:
• The Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project:
• Feminist Majority Foundation:
• ADA Hotlinks and Documents Center:

 Updated Thursday, February 1, 2007 at 1:57:52 PM by Robert Stockwell -
Login | Logout