The Voting Rights Act of 1965

The 1965 Enactment

By 1965, concerted efforts to break the grip of voter disfranchisement in certain states had been under way for some time, but had achieved only modest success overall and in some areas had proved almost entirely ineffectual. The murder of voting-rights activists in Philadelphia, Mississippi, gained national attention, along with numerous other acts of violence and terrorism. Finally, the unprovoked attack on March 7, 1965, by state troopers on peaceful marchers crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, en route to the state capitol in Montgomery, persuaded President Johnson and Congress to overcome Southern legislators’ resistance to effective voting rights legislation. President Johnson issued a call for a strong voting rights law and hearings began soon thereafter on the bill that would become the Voting Rights Act.

Congress determined that the existing federal anti-discrimination laws were not sufficient to overcome the resistance by state officials to enforcement of the 15th Amendment. The legislative hearings showed that the U.S. Department of Justice’s efforts to eliminate discriminatory election practices by litigation on a case-by-case basis had been unsuccessful in opening up the registration process; as soon as one discriminatory practice or procedure was proven to be unconstitutional and enjoined, a new one would be substituted in its place and litigation would have to commence anew.

President Johnson signed the resulting legislation into law on August 6, 1965. Section 2 of the Act, which closely followed the language of the 15th amendment, applied a nationwide prohibition against the denial or abridgment of the right to vote on the literacy tests on a nationwide basis. Among its other provisions, the Act contained special enforcement provisions targeted at those areas of the country where Congress believed the potential for discrimination to be the greatest. Under Section 5, jurisdictions covered by these special provisions could not implement any change affecting voting until the Attorney General or the United States District Court for the District of Columbia determined that the change did not have a discriminatory purpose and would not have a discriminatory effect. In addition, the Attorney General could designate a county covered by these special provisions for the appointment of a federal examiner to review the qualifications of persons who wanted to register to vote. Further, in those counties where a federal examiner was serving, the Attorney General could request that federal observers monitor activities within the county’s polling place.

The Voting Rights Act had not included a provision prohibiting poll taxes, but had directed the Attorney General to challenge its use. In Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections, 383 U.S. 663 (1966), the Supreme Court held Virginia’s poll tax to be unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment. Between 1965 and 1969 the Supreme Court also issued several key decisions upholding the constitutionality of Section 5 and affirming the broad range of voting practices that required Section 5 review. As the Supreme Court put it in its 1966 decision upholding the constitutionality of the Act:

Congress had found that case-by-case litigation was inadequate to combat wide-spread and persistent discrimination in voting, because of the inordinate amount of time and energy required to overcome the obstructionist tactics invariably encountered in these lawsuits. After enduring nearly a century of systematic resistance to the Fifteenth Amendment, Congress might well decide to shift the advantage of time and inertia from the perpetrators of the evil to its victims. South Carolina v. Katzenbach, 383 U.S. 301, 327-28 (1966).

The 1970 and 1975 Amendments

Congress extended Section 5 for five years in 1970 and for seven years in 1975. With these extensions Congress validated the Supreme Court’s broad interpretation of the scope of Section 5. During the hearings on these extensions Congress heard extensive testimony concerning the ways in which voting electorates were manipulated through gerrymandering, annexations, adoption of at-large elections, and other structural changes to prevent newly-registered black voters from effectively using the ballot. Congress also heard extensive testimony about voting discrimination that had been suffered by Hispanic, Asian and Native American citizens, and the 1975 amendments added protections from voting discrimination for language minority citizens.

In 1973, the Supreme Court held certain legislative multi-member districts unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment on the ground that they systematically diluted the voting strength of minority citizens in Bexar County, Texas. This decision in White v. Regester, 412 U.S. 755 (1973), strongly shaped litigation through the 1970s against at-large systems and gerrymandered redistricting plans. In Mobile v. Bolden, 446 U.S. 55 (1980), however, the Supreme Court required that any constitutional claim of minority vote dilution must include proof of a racially discriminatory purpose, a requirement that was widely seen as making such claims far more difficult to prove.

The 1982 Amendments

Congress renewed in 1982 the special provisions of the Act, triggered by coverage under Section 4 for twenty-five years. Congress also adopted a new standard, which went into effect in 1985, providing how jurisdictions could terminate (or “bail out” from) coverage under the provisions of Section 4. Furthermore, after extensive hearings, Congress amended Section 2 to provide that a plaintiff could establish a violation of the Section without having to prove discriminatory purpose.

Race Discrimination: U.S. Supreme Court Cases

Below is a list of U.S. Supreme Court cases involving race discrimination and the rights of members of racial groups, including links to the full text of the U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

  • Korematsu v. U.S. (1944)
    The Court in this case upheld the conviction of an American of Japanese descent, who had been prosecuted for remaining in California after a 1942 presidential order designating much of the west coast a “military area”, and requiring relocation of most Japanese-Americans from California (among other west coast states)
  • Shelley v. Kraemer (1948)
    This decision held that “racially restrictive covenants” in property deeds are unenforceable. In this case, the “covenants” were terms or obligations in property deeds that limited property rights to Caucasians, excluding members of other races.
  • Bailey v. Patterson (1962)
    The Court in this case prohibited racial segregation of interstate and intrastate transportation facilities.
  • Loving v. Virginia (1967)
    This decision holds that state laws prohibiting inter-racial marriage are unconstitutional.
  • Jones v. Mayer Co. (1968)
    The Court held in this case that federal law bars all racial discrimination (private or public), in sale or rental of property.
  • Lau v. Nichols (1973)
    The Court found that a city school system’s failure to provide English language instruction to students of Chinese ancestry amounted to unlawful discrimination.
  • Batson v. Kentucky (1986)
    This decision holds that a state denies an African-American defendant equal protection when it puts him on trial before a jury from which members of his race have been purposefully excluded.
  • Grutter v. Bollinger (2003)
    In this case, the Court finds that a law school’s limited “affirmative action” use of race in admissions is constitutional.

Voting Rights and Discrimination FAQ

What federal law protects me from discrimination in voting?

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 protects every American against racial discrimination in voting. This law also protects the voting rights of many people who have limited English skills. It stands for the principle that everyone’s vote is equal, and that neither race nor language should shut any of us out of the political process. You can find the Voting Rights Act in the United States Code at 42 U.S.C. 1973 to 1973aa-6.

Where did the Voting Rights Act come from?

Congress passed the Voting Rights Act in 1965, at the height of the civil rights movement in the South, a movement committed to securing equal voting rights for African Americans. The action came immediately after one of the most important events of that movement, a clash between black civil rights marchers and white police in Selma, Alabama. The marchers were starting a 50-mile walk to the state capital, Montgomery, to demand equal rights in voting, when police used violence to disperse them. What happened that day in Selma shocked the nation, and led President Johnson to call for immediate passage of a strong federal voting rights law.

What does the Voting Rights Act do?

The Voting Rights Act bans all kinds of racial discrimination in voting. For years, many states had laws on their books that served only to prevent minority citizens from voting. Some of these laws required people to take a reading test or interpret some passage out of the Constitution in order to vote, or required people registering to vote to bring someone already registered who would vouch for their “good character.” The Voting Rights Act made these and other discriminatory practices illegal, and gave private citizens the right to sue in federal court to stop them. In recent times, courts have applied the Act to end race discrimination in the method of electing state and local legislative bodies and in the choosing of poll officials.

Will the Voting Rights Act expire?

No. The Voting Rights Act is a permanent federal law. Moreover, the equal right to vote regardless of race or color is protected by the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which has been part of our law since the end of the Civil War. And in case after case, our courts have held that the right to vote is fundamental. Voting rights will not expire.

However, some sections of the Voting Rights Act need to be renewed to remain in effect. When Congress amended and strengthened the Voting Rights Act in 1982, it extended for 25 more years–until 2007–the preclearance requirement of Section 5, the authority to use federal examiners and observers, and some of the statute’s language minority requirements. So, for those sections to extend past 2007, Congress will have to take action. But even if these special provisions are not renewed, the rest of the Voting Rights Act will continue to prohibit discrimination in voting.

What is Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act?

Section 5 is a special provision of the statute (42 U.S.C. 1973c) that requires state and local governments in certain parts of the country to get federal approval (known as”preclearance”) before implementing any changes they want to make in their voting procedures: anything from moving a polling place to changing district lines in the county.

Under Section 5, a covered state, county or local government entity must demonstrate to federal authorities that the voting change in question (1) does not have a racially discriminatory purpose; and (2) will not make minority voters worse off than they were prior to the change (i.e. the change will not be “retrogressive”).

Section 5 applies to all or parts of the following states:

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Louisiana
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • New Hampshire
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Texas
  • Virginia

What kinds of racial discrimination in voting are there, and what does the Voting Rights Act do about them?

The Voting Rights Act is not limited to discrimination that literally excludes minority voters from the polls. Section 2 of the Act (42 U.S.C. 1973) makes it illegal for any state or local government to use election processes that are not equally open to minority voters, or that give minority voters less opportunity than other voters to participate in the political process and elect representatives of their choice to public office. In particular, Section 2 makes it illegal for state and local governments to “dilute” the votes of racial minority groups, that is, to have an election system that makes minority voters’ votes less effective than those of other voters. One of many forms of minority vote dilution is the drawing of district lines that divide minority communities and keep them from putting enough votes together to elect representatives of their choice to public office. Depending on the circumstances, dilution can also result from at-large voting for governmental bodies. When coupled with a long-standing pattern of racial discrimination in the community, these and other election schemes can deny minority voters a fair chance to elect their preferred candidates.

To show vote dilution in these situations, there must be a geographically concentrated minority population and voting that is polarized by race, that is, a pattern in which minority voters and white voters tend to vote differently as groups. It must also be shown that white voters, by voting as a bloc against minority-choice candidates, usually beat those candidates even if minority voters are unified or cohesive at the polls.

Anyone aggrieved by minority vote dilution can bring a federal lawsuit to stop it. If the court decides that the effect of an election system, in combination with all the local circumstances, is to make minority votes less effective than white votes, it can order a change in the election system. For example, courts have ordered states and localities to adopt districting plans to replace at-large voting, or to redraw their election district lines in a way that gives minority voters the same opportunity as other voters to elect representatives of their choice.

Is it prohibited to draw majority-minority districts?

No. Over 30 years ago the Supreme Court held that jurisdictions are free to draw majority-minority election districts that follow traditional, non-racial districting considerations, such as geographic compactness and keeping communities of interest together. Later Supreme Court decisions have held that drawing majority-minority districts may be required to ensure compliance with the Voting Rights Act.

While it remains legally permissible for jurisdictions to take race into account when drawing election districts, the Supreme Court has held that the Constitution requires a strong justification if racial considerations predominate over traditional districting principles. One such justification may be the need to remedy a violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. While such a remedy may include election district boundaries that compromise traditional districting principles, such districts must be drawn where the Section 2 violation occurs and must not compromise traditional principles more than is necessary to remedy the violation.

What other voting rights laws exist?

The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (often referred to as the “motor voter” law) requires states to make voter registration opportunities available when people apply for or receive services at a variety of government agencies, from driver’s license offices to social services agencies and public benefits offices. The law says states must not take voters off the rolls merely because they have not voted, and it requires states to keep their voter rolls up to date by removing the names of voters who have died or moved away. It may be found at 42 U.S.C. 1973gg to 1973gg-10.

The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act of 1986 (42 U.S.C. 1973ff to 1973ff-6) requires states to make sure that members of our armed forces who are stationed away from home, and citizens who are living overseas, can register and vote absentee in federal elections.

The Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act of 1984 (42 U.S.C. 1973ee to 1973ee-6) requires polling places across the United States to be physically accessible to people with disabilities.

Does the Voting Rights Act protect language minorities?

Yes. The Voting Rights Act makes it illegal to discriminate in voting based on someone’s membership in a language minority group. The idea behind the Voting Rights Act’s minority language provisions is to remove language as a barrier to political participation, and to prevent voting discrimination against people who speak minority languages. The Justice Department enforces these protections by bringing lawsuits in federal court, by sending federal observers to monitor elections, and by working with local jurisdictions to improve their minority language election procedures.

Many jurisdictions with people of Hispanic, Native American, and Alaskan Native heritage are covered by Section 5 of the Act.

The Voting Rights Act further protects minority language group members by requiring particular jurisdictions to print ballots and other election materials in the minority language as well as in English, and to have oral translation help available at the polls where the need exists. The formulas for determining which jurisdictions must do this are based on the share of the local population in need. The Act requires bilingual election procedures in various states and counties for voters who speak Spanish, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Vietnamese, and more than a dozen Native American and Alaskan Native languages.

Rights of Inmates

Even the most chronic or hardened inmates have basic rights that are protected by the U.S. Constitution. If you are facing incarceration, you should know your rights. If you have a family member or friend who is in prison or jail, you should know what their rights are, as well.

    • Pre-trial detainees (those citizens who are too poor to afford bail and who are therefore held pending trial) have the right to be housed in humane facilities. In addition, pre-trial detainees cannot be “punished” or treated as guilty while they await trial.
    • Inmates have the right to be free, under the Eighth Amendment, from inhuman conditions because those conditions constitute “cruel and unusual” punishment. The term “cruel and unusual” was not defined at the time the Amendment was passed, but it was noted by the Supreme Court in 1848 that such punishments would include “drawing and quartering, embowelling alive, beheading, public dissecting, and burning alive,” among other things. Today, many of these punishments may seem antiquated, but the basic scope of the protection remains the same. Any punishment that can be considered inhumane treatment or that violates the basic concept of a person’s dignity may be found to be cruel and unusual.

Example: In 1995, a federal court in Massachusetts found that inmates’ constitutional rights were violated when they were held in a 150-year-old prison that was infested with vermin, fire hazards, and a lack of toilets.

    • Inmates have the right to be free from sexual crimes, including sexual harassment.

Example: A federal court in the District of Columbia found prison officials liable for the systematic sexual harassment, rape, sodomy, assault, and other abuses of female inmates by prison staff members. In addition, the court found that the prison facilities were dilapidated, that there was a lack of proper medical care available, and that the female inmates were provided with inferior programs as compared to male inmates within the same system.

    • Inmates have the right to complain about prison conditions and voice their concerns about the treatment they receive. They also have a right of access to the courts to air these complaints.

Example: A federal court in Iowa recently awarded a prisoner over $7,000 in damages after it was found that he was placed in solitary segregation for one year and then transferred to a different facility where his life was in danger just because he complained about prison conditions and filed a lawsuit challenging the conditions of his confinement.

    • Disabled prisoners are entitled to assert their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act to ensure that they are allowed access to prison programs or facilities that they are qualified and able to participate in.
    • Inmates are entitled to medical care and attention as needed to treat both short-term conditions and long-term illnesses. The medical care provided must be “adequate.”
    • Inmates who need mental health care are entitled to receive that treatment in a manner that is appropriate under the circumstances. The treatment must also be “adequate.”
    • Inmates retain only those First Amendment rights, such as freedom of speech, which are not inconsistent with their status as inmates and which are in keeping with the legitimate objectives of the penal corrections system, such as preservation of order, discipline, and security. In this regard, prison officials are entitled to open mail directed to inmates to ensure that it does not contain any illegal items or weapons, but may not censor portions of correspondence which they find merely inflammatory or rude.

Note: Inmates do not have a right to have face-to-face interviews with news reporters or media representatives. The rationale for this limitation is that the media are not entitled to have access to inmates that members of the general public would not be able to have.

    • Inmates have the right to be free from racial segregation in prisons, except where necessary for preserving discipline and prison security.
    • Inmates do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their prison cells and are not protected from “shakedowns,” or searches of their cells to look for weapons, drugs, or other contraband.
    • Inmates are entitled, under the Due Process Clause of the Constitution, to be free from unauthorized and intentional deprivation of their personal property by prison officials.
    • The Supreme Court has held that inmates who are the subject of disciplinary investigations or proceedings are entitled to advance written notice of the claimed violation and a written statement of the facts, evidence relied upon, and the reason for the action taken. The inmate is also entitled to call witnesses and present documentary evidence if allowing him to do so would not risk order, discipline, and security. In that regard, inmates are rarely allowed to confront and cross-examine adverse witnesses in an internal disciplinary proceeding.

Note: In most cases, an inmate is not entitled to representation by counsel in a disciplinary proceeding.

  • Inmates are entitled to a hearing if they are to be moved to a mental health facility. However, an inmate is not always entitled to a hearing if he or she is being moved between two similar facilities.
  • A mentally ill inmate is not entitled to a full-blown hearing before the government may force him or her to take anti-psychotic drugs against his or her will. It is sufficient if there is an administrative hearing before independent medical professionals.

In 1996, Congress passed the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), which has been seen by many critics as unfairly limiting inmate access to the federal court system. The PLRA contains five major provisions:

    1. Prisoners must exhaust internal prison grievance procedures before they file suit in federal court.
    2. Prisoners must pay their own court filing fees, either in one payment or in a series of monthly installments.
    3. Courts have the right to dismiss any prisoner’s lawsuit which they find to be either “frivolous,” “malicious” or stating an improper claim. Each time a court makes this determination, the case can be thrown out of court and the prisoner can have a “strike” issued against them. Once the inmate receives three “strikes,” they can no longer file another lawsuit unless they pay the entire court filing fee up front.

Note: If the inmate is in risk of immediate and serious physical injury, the three strike rule may be waived.

  1. Prisoners cannot file a claim for mental or emotional injury unless they can show that they also suffered a physical injury.
  2. Prisoners risk losing credit for good time if a judge decides that a lawsuit was filed for the purpose of harassment, that the inmate lied, or that the inmate presented false information.

Civil Rights and Discrimination: U.S. Supreme Court Decisions

Following is a list of U.S. Supreme Court decisions involving civil rights and discrimination.

  • Dred Scott v. Sanford (1856) | (Case Background)
    A major precursor to the Civil War, this controversial U.S. Supreme Court decision denied citizenship and basic rights to all blacks — whether slave or free.
  • Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)
    This decision allowed the use of “separate but equal” racially segregated accommodations and facilities.
  • Korematsu v. U.S. (1944)
    The Court in this case upheld the conviction of an American of Japanese descent, who had been prosecuted for remaining in California after a 1942 presidential order designating much of the west coast a “military area”, and requiring relocation of most Japanese-Americans from California (among other west coast states)
  • Shelley v. Kraemer (1948)
    This decision held that “racially restrictive covenants” in property deeds are unenforceable. In this case, the “covenants” were terms or obligations in property deeds that limited property rights to Caucasians, excluding members of other races.
  • Bailey v. Patterson (1962)
    The Court in this case prohibited racial segregation of interstate and intrastate transportation facilities.
  • Gideon v. Wainwright (1963)
    In this case, the Court found that criminal defense attorneys must be provided for indigent criminal defendants.
  • Loving v. Virginia (1967)
    This decision holds that state laws prohibiting inter-racial marriage are unconstitutional.
  • Jones v. Mayer Co. (1968)
    The Court held in this case that federal law bars all racial discrimination (private or public), in sale or rental of property.
  • Griggs v. Duke Power Co. (1971)
    In this case, the Court decided that certain education requirements and intelligence tests used as conditions of employment acted to exclude African-American job applicants, did not relate to job performance, and were prohibited.
  • Lau v. Nichols (1973)
    The Court found that a city school system’s failure to provide English language instruction to students of Chinese ancestry amounted to unlawful discrimination.
  • Roe v. Wade (1973)
    In this landmark case, the Court decided that a woman’s right to abortion is part of the constitutional right to privacy.
  • Cleveland Bd. of Ed. v. LaFleur (1974)
    Found that Ohio public school mandatory maternity leave rules for pregnant teachers violate constitutional guarantees of due process.
  • Batson v. Kentucky (1986)
    This decision holds that a state denies an African-American defendant equal protection when it puts him on trial before a jury from which members of his race have been purposefully excluded.
  • Bowers v. Hardwick (1986)
    The Court holds that a Georgia statute criminalizing same-sex sodomy is constitutional.
  • Johnson v. Transportation Agency (1987)
    The Court decides that a county transportation agency appropriately took into account an employee’s sex as one factor in determining whether she should be promoted.
  • Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Serv., Inc. (1987)
    In this case, the Court held that sex discrimination consisting of same-sex sexual harassment can form the basis for a valid claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
  • Franklin v. Gwinnett County Public Schools (1992)
    The Court decided that an award of money damages is possible in a case brought to enforce Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, alleging sexual harassment and abuse by a teacher.
  • Romer v. Evans (1996)
    In this case, the Court finds that an amendment to Colorado’s constitution, which sought to preclude legal protection of homosexuals’ rights, is unconstitutional.
  • Bragdon v. Abbott (1998)
    The Court holds that HIV infection qualifies as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
  • Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth (1998)
    Holding that an employee who refuses unwelcome and threatening sexual advances of a supervisor (but suffers no real job consequences) may recover against the employer without showing the employer is at fault for the supervisor’s actions.
  • Faragher v. City of Boca Raton (1998)
    The Court decides that an employer may be liable for sexual discrimination caused by a supervisor, but liability depends on the reasonableness of the employer’s conduct, as well as the reasonableness of the plaintiff victim’s conduct.
  • Murphy v. United Parcel Service, Inc. (1999)
    In this case, the Court explains how to determine whether an impairment “substantially limits” a major life activity under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
  • Lawrence v. Texas (2003)
    The Court holds that a Texas statute criminalizing same-sex conduct is unconstitutional.
  • Grutter v. Bollinger (2003)
    In this case, the Court finds that a law school’s limited “affirmative action” use of race in admissions is constitutional.

What is Discrimination?

In plain English, to “discriminate” means to distinguish, single out, or make a distinction. In everyday life, when faced with more than one option, we discriminate in arriving at almost every decision we make. But in the context of civil rights law, unlawful discrimination refers to unfair or unequal treatment of an individual (or group) based on certain characteristics, including:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Ethnicity
  • Gender
  • Marital status
  • National origin
  • Race,
  • Religion, and
  • Sexual orientation.

Lawful vs. Unlawful Discrimination

Not all types of discrimination will violate federal and/or state laws that prohibit discrimination. Some types of unequal treatment are perfectly legal, and cannot form the basis for a civil rights case alleging discrimination. The examples below illustrate the difference between lawful and unlawful discrimination.

Example 1: Applicant 1, an owner of two dogs, fills out an application to lease an apartment from Landlord. Upon learning that Applicant 1 is a dog owner, Landlord refuses to lease the apartment to her, because he does not want dogs in his building. Here, Landlord has not committed a civil rights violation by discriminating against Applicant 1 based solely on her status as a pet owner. Landlord is free to reject apartment applicants who own pets.

Example 2: Applicant 2, an African-American man, fills out an application to lease an apartment from Landlord. Upon learning that Applicant 2 is an African-American, Landlord refuses to lease the apartment to him, because he prefers to have Caucasian tenants in his building. Here, Landlord has committed a civil rights violation by discriminating against Applicant 2 based solely on his race. Under federal and state fair housing and anti-discrimination laws, Landlord may not reject apartment applicants because of their race.

Where Can Discrimination Occur?

Federal and state laws prohibit discrimination against members of protected groups (identified above) in a number of settings, including:

  • Education
  • Employment
  • Housing
  • Government benefits and services
  • Health care services
  • Land use / zoning
  • Lending and credit
  • Public accommodations (Access to buildings and businesses)
  • Transportation
  • Voting

Anti-Discrimination Laws

Most laws prohibiting discrimination, and many legal definitions of “discriminatory” acts, originated at the federal level through either:

  • Federal legislation, like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1992. Other federal acts (supplemented by court decisions) prohibit discrimination in voting rights, housing, extension of credit, public education, and access to public facilities.

OR

  • Federal court decisions, like the U.S. Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, which was the impetus for nationwide racial desegregation of public schools. Other Supreme Court cases have shaped the definition of discriminatory acts like sexual harassment, and the legality of anti-discrimination remedies such as affirmative action programs.

Today, most states have anti-discrimination laws of their own which mirror those at the federal level. For example, in the state of Texas, Title 2 Chapter 21 of the Labor Code prohibits employment discrimination. Many of the mandates in this Texas law are based on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the federal law making employment discrimination unlawful.

Municipalities within states (such as cities, counties, and towns) can create their own anti-discrimination laws or ordinances, which may or may not resemble the laws of the state itself. For example, a city may pass legislation requiring domestic partner benefits for city employees and their same-sex partners, even though no such law exists at the state level.

Discrimination: Getting a Lawyer’s Help

If you believe you have suffered a civil rights violation such as discrimination, the best place to start is to speak with an experienced Discrimination Attorney. Important decisions related to your case can be complicated — including which laws apply to your situation, and who is responsible for the discrimination and any harm you suffered. A Discrimination Attorney will evaluate all aspects of your case and explain all options available to you, in order to ensure the best possible outcome for your case.

Civil Rights in Education: Law and History

Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in public schools because of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Public schools include elementary schools, secondary schools and public colleges and universities.

In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that segregation in the public schools was a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. But implementation of the Court’s decision went slowly, with massive resistance from the states. In 1957, a federal court ordered the desegregation of public schools in Little Rock, Arkansas. The Governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus, ordered the Arkansas National Guard to prevent the 9 black children who were enrolled in Central High School from attending the school. Mobs of angry people greeted the students on the first day of school. These students were prevented from attending the school until President Eisenhower made the National Guard part of the federal army and also sent 1,000 paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division of the US Army to protect these 9 children. In September 1958, Governor Faubus closed all the schools in Little Rock to prevent any more black children from attending white schools. The schools remained closed until August 1959, when the U.S. Supreme Court ordered them re-opened.

In January 1961, James Meredith, an African-American, applied for admission to the University of Mississippi. Officials at the school returned his application. Mr. Meredith took his case to court. On September 10, 1962, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that he had the right to attend the University of Mississippi. The Governor of Mississippi, Ross Barnett, personally blocked Mr. Meredith from registering at the University even after the Supreme Court ruled. Finally, on September 30, 1962, a Sunday, Mr. Meredith was escorted onto the campus by federal marshals and Civil Rights Division lawyers. Stationed on or near the campus to protect him were 123 deputy federal marshals, 316 US Border Patrolmen, and 97 federal prison guards. Within an hour, the federal forces were attacked by a mob that would grow to number 2,000 and who fought them with guns, bricks, bottles, and Molotov cocktails. The marshals had been ordered not to shoot and so used tear gas to try to stop the rioting. The violence continued until President Kennedy sent 16,000 federal troops to the campus. When it was over, 2 people were dead, 28 marshals had been shot, 160 people were injured, and James Meredith became the first black student to attend the University of Mississippi.