Civil Rights Acts

views updated Jun 11 2018

Civil Rights Acts










A civil right is a guarantee by the government, generally in the form of a statute or constitutional provision, that a certain freedom (or freedoms) will be protected through the machinery of the judicial system. If a civil right is interfered with by another person or persons, legal action can be taken against the perpetrators. Some of the most well-known civil rights guarantees include the right to be free from involuntary servitude, the right to vote, and the right to be free from employment discrimination.


In the United States, civil rights have their origins in the efforts of the U.S. Congress to free enslaved Africans and, later, to protect them from discrimination because of their previous condition of servitude. Generally, only blacks experienced chattel slavery. Thus, civil rights are associated with efforts by the federal government to protect blacks. Historically, such federal intervention was primarily directed against the overt actions of state officials acting “under color of law.” With less effectiveness, federal actions were also tested against nominally private individuals, such as members of the Ku Klux Klan, who took advantage of the postbellum inertia of state officials and threatened the rights of former slaves.

The modern trend has been to universalize notions of equality, and civil rights laws have been expanded in their scope of coverage. As a result, women, Hispanics, and the “differently abled” now have significant protection against discrimination. Civil rights protections also include protection from unreasonable search and seizure, freedom of speech, and other rights that protect all individuals. However, the focus here will be on the particular struggle to establish protections for minorities and people of color, for it is this history that forms the background for all civil rights enforcement.

The history of civil rights has included steps forward and backward over time, leading one author to describe it as “an unsteady march” to equality (Klinkner and Smith 1999). There are at least three important periods in the development of civil rights: the Reconstruction Period; the Period of Segregation, or “Jim Crow”; and the Modern Era, which has been referred to as “the Second Reconstruction.”


The original Constitution protected slavery through several circumlocutory clauses, including the fugitive slave clause, which prohibited northern states from interfering with the recapture of fugitives, and the infamous three-fifths clause, which implicitly recognized slavery and counted all slaves as three-fifths of a person for purposes of congressional apportionment. Under this original constitutional framework, the federal government was conceived as a great danger to liberty. Indeed, in this antebellum context, “liberty” included the right to own slaves as “property” or “chattel.” Thus, the first ten amendments to the Constitution limited the power of the federal government. This framework was associated with a notion of “state’s rights”—which could have been read as southern state’s rights. This meant that individual rights were protected only by the states, if they were protected at all. But the law was merely a rationalization of racial attitudes, and slavery rested ultimately on a “philosophy” of black inferiority. Immediately after the Civil War, the North, dominated by the Republican Party, sought to reintegrate the South back into the Union and address the needs of formerly enslaved African Americans. During this period, known as Reconstruction, Congress passed three constitutional amendments and five civil rights statutes to establish civil rights for the freedmen.

The Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery, was ratified on December 18, 1865. It provides that “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Congress reserved the right to enforce the amendment through appropriate legislation. This assertion of the supremacy of the federal government over the states was a revolutionary concept at the time.

The new amendment did nothing to overcome traditional beliefs, however, and many southern states enacted laws known as “Black Codes.” As Jacobs Tenbroek has written, by virtue of these codes blacks were “socially outcast, industrially a serf, legally a separate and oppressed class” (Tenbroek 1952). Blacks were thus reduced to slavery in all but name. The Black Codes compelled Congress to pass further legislation, namely the Civil Rights Act of 1866. A precursor to the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the act granted citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States.” It thus reversed the Supreme Court decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford that held that blacks could not be citizens. It also provided that, among other things, blacks would have the same rights under the law as whites, including the right to sue and be sued, the right to make contracts, and the right to own property. It also made it a crime to deprive any person of his or her civil rights.

Associated with the Civil Rights Act of 1866 was the Anti-Peonage Act of 1867. This law “resulted from the practices found to prevail in the Territory of New Mexico and inherited from the days of Spanish rule” (Gressman 1952). But the law went beyond the specific evil that gave it birth and prohibited involuntary servitude anywhere in the United States. Taken together, the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the Anti-Peonage Act prohibited forced labor through the institution of slavery as well as through more indirect methods.

When the Black Codes were outlawed by the Civil Rights Act of 1866, hostilities broke out, including a race riot that erupted in Memphis in May 1866. In the backlash that followed, both blacks and the whites that supported civil rights became “victims of terrorism in the South” (Flack 1908).

Yet during this period, opponents of equal rights for blacks avoided public rhetoric on racism. Instead, they based their criticism of the Civil Rights Act on claims of “state’s rights.” More specifically, the opponents of the bill argued that the Thirteenth Amendment merely abolished slavery and gave Congress no power to require what would later be called “equal protection of the laws.” Abolitionists, on the other hand, had long sought to make the federal government the primary protector of individual rights. In the southern view, this legislation was a radical device that wrote the abolitionist perspective into law.

Seeking to place both the issue of black equality and the central role of the federal government beyond the reach of succeeding Congresses, the reigning northern Republicans sought to make civil rights protections a permanent feature of the U.S. Constitution. Thus, the Fourteenth Amendment was born. Tracking the language of the earlier Civil Rights Act, the amendment declared:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof are citizens of the United States and the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law, which shall abridge the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the law.

To solidify the supremacy of the federal government over the states in enforcing these civil rights, Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment explicitly gave Congress the power to enforce this legislation by appropriate additional legislation. The Fourteenth Amendment was ratified on July 28, 1868. Shortly thereafter, on February 2, 1870, Congress ratified the Fifteenth Amendment, guaranteeing that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Then, on May 31, 1870, Congress reenacted the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which provided for criminal penalties for those violating the Fifteenth Amendment, using the newly minted Fourteenth Amendment as a source of congressional power. This was an attempt to silence those who criticized Congress for legislating equality under an amendment that merely prohibited slavery.

As late as 1871, the terrorism that blacks experienced had not subsided. It was clear that state officials in the South had the power to intervene, but they refused to act to protect the freed slaves. In response, Congress passed what came to be known as the Ku Klux Klan Act on April 20, 1871. Best known in the early twenty-first century is the portion of the statute (now codified as 42 U.S.C. 1983) that prohibited state officials from denying rights to blacks:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.

At the time, however, the heart of the statute consisted of the sections that prohibited private parties from acting together to deny rights to blacks. Section 2 made it a crime for two or more persons to “conspire together, or go in disguise upon the public highway or upon premises of another for the purpose … of depriving any person or any class of persons of the equal protection of the laws.”

The high watermark of reconstruction legislation was the Civil Rights Act of 1875, enacted on March 1, 1875. Section 1 of the law required all inns, public conveyances, theaters, and other places of public amusement to open their accommodations and privileges to “all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States … regardless of any previous condition of servitude.” Section 2 made the violation of the law a criminal offense and gave the injured party a right to recover $500.00 in damages. The law was designed to make blacks full-fledged citizens, and to integrate them into the public life of the states in which they lived. Taken together, the civil rights legislation enacted during Reconstruction represented a constitutional revolution. But it was a revolution that was too swiftly abandoned.


Following the disputed presidential election of 1876, the Democratic supporters of Samuel J. Tilden and the Republican supporters of Rutherford B. Hayes reached an agreement that historians call the Hayes-Tilden Compromise. The “compromise” stipulated that Hayes would get the presidency, but that he would then have to name at least one southerner to his cabinet and remove the troops that had enforced the civil rights laws in the old Confederacy. Hayes thus strode upon the stage of American history as the nineteenth president of the United States, but, as agreed, he withdrew the federal troops from the South, thus bringing down the curtain on Reconstruction.

The force of civil rights legislation was further eroded by the U.S. Supreme Court. In what has been called a judicial coup d’etat, the Court held that many of the Reconstruction-era civil rights laws were unconstitutional. They affirmed the autonomy of the states and held again and again that the federal government overstepped its bounds by attempting to assert its authority to protect individual rights.

In the Slaughterhouse Cases of 1873, the Supreme Court held that national citizenship conferred few “privileges and immunities.” In 1875, the Supreme Court held in U.S. v. Cruikshank that the federal government had no jurisdiction over private individuals who deprived blacks of civil rights. Instead, the Court stated, “blacks should look to state officials for protection.” Of course, state officials in the South were the very people Congress had sought to protect blacks from. In the ironically named Civil Rights Cases of 1883, the Court went on to hold that Congress lacked the power to punish private individuals for denying blacks access to places of public accommodation. The Court held that without state action, no constitutional violation could occur under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Finally, in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) the Supreme Court placed the imprimatur of constitutional approval on state-sponsored segregation. Here, the state of Louisiana had passed a law that required blacks and whites to sit in separate railroad cars. The Court upheld the law on the grounds that blacks had no right to social equality, but only political equality, under the Fourteenth Amendment. With Plessy, the Court ushered in the era of segregation. Once the Supreme Court had legitimized it, many states, including but not limited to most southern states, passed laws requiring or permitting segregation. A web of interlocking segregationist laws and customs sprang up, creating the regime of “Jim Crow.”


After seven decades of Jim Crow, the modern civil rights era began with sit-ins and boycotts in the 1950s. In the 1960s Congress passed a series of civil rights acts, including the Civil Rights Acts of 1960, 1964, and 1968.

The impetus for this legislation began as early as 1941 with House Resolution (H.R.) 3994, entitled, “A Bill to Prohibit Discrimination by Any Agency Supported in Whole or in Part with Funds Appropriated by the Congress of the United States.” The bill, introduced by Vito Marcantonio from New York, died unceremoniously in committee, as would hundreds like it. President Roosevelt, however, by executive order, prohibited discrimination by defense contractors and created the Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC).

Momentum began to build after the racially motivated beating, maiming or lynching of several black men following World War II. In response to the outcry that followed, President Truman set up the President’s Committee on Civil Rights, which issued a report, To Secure These Rights, in 1947 recommending additional civil rights legislation and a permanent Civil Rights Commission. Subsequently, in 1948, Truman issued an Executive Order calling for desegregation of the armed forces.

Antidiscrimination laws gained further momentum with the enactment, during the Eisenhower years, of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, which created the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The reports of this commission spotlighted the glaring inequalities faced by blacks. On May 6, 1960, Eisenhower signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1960, which established federal inspections of local voter registration polls and introduced penalties for anyone who obstructed a person’s attempt to register to vote.

President John F. Kennedy continued the march forward. On March 6, 1961, President Kennedy signed into law an Executive Order establishing the President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity and requiring all government contractors to pursue affirmative action policies in the hiring of minorities.


The stage was then set for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. First, H.R. 405 entitled “A Bill to Prohibit Discrimination in Employment in Certain Cases Because of Race, Religion, Color, National Origin, Ancestry or Age” was introduced on January 9, 1963. Setting the tone for the legislation to come, Kennedy, in his message to the 88th Congress in February 1963, advocated “the democratic principle that no man should be denied employment commensurate with his abilities because of his race or creed or ancestry.” Originally the bill focused on race, but it was amended by its opponents to include women. These individuals theorized that the possibility of women being given equal rights would doom the bill to failure.

After the longest debate in congressional history, an equal opportunity bill passed the house in February 1963. This launched a tremendous struggle in the Senate. In particular, Title VII of the act threatened to change longstanding baselines of employment law that held that the employer could hire or fire his employee for a good reason, a bad reason, or no reason at all. But more importantly, the bill threatened segregation as a way of life. Southern opponents appealed not to race, however, but to notions of private property. They argued that it was wrong to tell employers whom they had to hire, and that owners of businesses, such as barber shops, had a right to decide with which customers they would associate. Thus, both the ideals of liberty and anticommunism were deployed by the opponents of equal opportunity.

Despite this opposition, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law on July 2, 1964. It prohibited discrimination on account of race, sex, color, religion, and national origin. The enforcement machinery was weak in the original formulation, however. Many entities were exempt, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which was created by Title VII of the act, had a limited role in enforcing employment discrimination. Yet, in many respects, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the most important legislation of the twentieth century.

Major Amendments . Many members of Congress believed that the “failure to grant the EEOC meaningful enforcement powers has proven to be a major flaw in the operation of Title VII” of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Therefore, the act was amended in 1972 to include local governments and educational institutions within its coverage and to give the EEOC litigation authority.

However, continuing the political tango of the first Reconstruction, the Supreme Court wrote decisions in the late 1980s that created particularly difficult burdens of proof for Title VII litigants. Perceiving this as a step backward, Congress enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1991, which “overruled” some the most onerous aspects of these decisions. In addition, it provided a right to a jury trial and the right of plaintiffs to not only recover back pay, but also to receive additional financial damages up to a certain ceiling.

Interpretating Title VII . Formally, the courts have interpreted Title VII of the Voting Rights Act to “proscribe not only overt discrimination but also practices that are fair in form, but discriminatory in operation” (Griggs v. Duke Power 1971). Thus, as a broad rule, not only is intentional discrimination prohibited, but so is any action that disproportionately excludes minorities in employment. However, the court has limited this theory by creating strict “intent” requirements. For example, an employer can build a factory in Harlem, a predominantly black area, but can then locate his employment office in Beverly Hills. The result may be a factory in Harlem with no black employees. Minorities would have little recourse in such a situation, unless they could prove this was done with an intent to discriminate.


The most basic right in a democracy is the right to vote. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 led directly to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibits any “voting qualification … which results in a denial …of the right … to vote on account of race or color.” Enacted pursuant to the Fifteenth Amendment, it has been described as “the most successful piece of federal civil rights legislation ever enacted” (Days 1992).

The Voting Rights Act has two principal provisions. Section 2 forbids the imposition or application of any “voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure … which results in a denial or abridgement of the right of an citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.” Section 5 requires federal approval of changes in voting procedures in areas with a history of discrimination. Yet despite this legislation, many blacks feel that they still face discriminatory barriers in the voting process.


Modern housing segregation dates back to the Great Migration in the early twentieth century. Between 1910 and 1920, approximately 300,000 African Americans migrated from the South to the North. This number increased to 1.3 million between 1920 and 1930; to 1.5 million between 1930 and 1940; and to 2.5 million between 1930 and 1950 (see Bennett 1982). As blacks moved to northern cities from the largely rural South, they confronted both legal and illegal means to restrict their residential choices. These included racial zoning ordinances, racially restrictive covenants, organized realtor practices, and racial violence. The effect of these practices was to create stark patterns of segregation, which still continue in the twenty-first century.

Fair housing laws began as an executive order passed by President Kennedy in 1962. Ignited by Kennedy’s leadership and a burgeoning civil rights movement, a substantial movement toward fair housing began. While there was strong resistance, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and the riots that followed served as a

Civil Rights Acts
Civil Rights Acts
Act (date passed)Key provisions
Thirteenth Amendment (December 18, 1865)Abolished slavery
Civil Rights Act of 1866 (April 9, 1866; reenacted May 31, 1870)Granted citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States; granted rights to sue, make contracts, and own property; made deprivation of civil rights a crime
Fourteenth Amendment (July 28, 1868)Curbed states’ rights claims; made federal government the protector of equal protection under the law
Fifteenth Amendment (February 2, 1870)Guaranteed the right to vote regardless of race, color, or previous condition of servitude
Civil Rights Act of 1875 (March 1, 1875)Required inns, transportation services, and places of amusement to be open to all regardless of previous condition of servitude
Civil Rights Act of 1957 (September 9, 1957)Created U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
Civil Rights Act of 1960 (May 6, 1960)Established federal inspection of voter registration rolls
Executive Order (May 6, 1961)Established President’s Commission on Equal Employment Opportunity
Civil Rights Act of 1964 (July 2, 1964)Prohibited discrimination based on race, sex, color, national origin, or religion; also addressed voting rights, segregated schools and facilities, employment
Voting Rights Act of 1965 (August 6, 1965)Prohibited any voting qualification that results in denial on account of race or color
Civil Rights Act of 1968 (April 11, 1968)Prohibited discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, or religion in property sex, national origin, or religion in property American Indians
Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987 (March 22, 1988)Outlawed discriminatory practices based upon race, religion, color, national origin, gender, age, or disability in any part of any institution that receives federal financial assistance
Civil Rights Act of 1991 (November 21, 1991)Lightened burden of proof for Title VII equal employment opportunity litigants; provides for jury trial and monetary damages beyond back pay

catalyst for new legislation. The Fair Housing Act became law on April 11, 1968.

The new law did three things: It prohibited most owners and renters from engaging in discriminatory practices involving their property, it prohibited institutional actors such as banks and real-estate brokers from discriminating, and it called upon the federal government to promote fair housing and establish enforcement mechanisms. In its original form the act prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, sex, national origin, and religion.

The Fair Housing Act was amended in 1988, when its coverage was extended to two statuses that had not been included in the original Act: handicapped status and familial status. The revised act also gave the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) greater power to investigate and enforce complaints of housing discrimination, while giving administrative judges the power to impose fines on violators.


Since the passage of Title VII and other legislation, all Americans are heirs to a legacy of equal opportunity and equal justice under law. However, whereas the legal structure in place provides some semblance of formal equality in the early twenty-first century, significant obstacles remain in society that continue to limit the availability of civil rights to all. First, discrimination and prejudice continue to operate against disfavored and disadvantaged groups. Secondly, although one may be a victim of discrimination, access to the resources and evidence to prove it in court, or an administrative hearing, may be another matter.

Finally, the objective value of civil rights has been questioned in the absence of economic and social equality. While the law is explicitly on the side of equal justice, a gulf remains. In the early twenty-first century, minorities are still the victims of racial profiling. Minorities are legally protected from discrimination, but there is still debate about the contours of that concept.

SEE ALSO Black Codes; Dred Scott v. Sandford; Voting Rights Act of 1965.


Bell, Abraham, and Gideon Parchomovsky. 2000. “The Integration Game.” Columbia Law Review 100 (8): 1965–2029.

Bennett, Lerone, Jr. 2003. Before the Mayflower: A History of Black America, 7th ed. Chicago: Johnson.

Days, Drew S., III. 1992. “Section 5 and the Role of the Justice Department.” In Controversies in Minority Voting: The Voting Rights Act in Perspective, edited by Bernard Grofman and Chandler Davidson. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution.

Finkelman, Paul. 1999. “Affirmative Action for the Master Class: The Creation of the Proslavery Constitution.” Akron Law Review 32.

Gressman, Eugene. 1952. “The Unhappy History of Civil Rights Legislation.” Michigan Law Review 50 (8): 1323–1358.

Hench, Virginia E. 1998. “The Death of Voting Rights: The Legal Disenfranchisement of Minority Voters.” Case Western Reserve Law Review 48 (4): 727–798.

Jones, D. Marvin. 1994. “No Time for Trumpets: Title VII, Equality and the Fin de Siecle.” Michigan Law Review 92 (8): 2311–2369.

Klinkner, Philip A., and Roger M. Smith. 1999. The Unsteady March: The Rise and Decline of Racial Equality in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Tenbroek, Jacobus. 1952. “The Antislavery Origins of the Fourteenth Amendment.” American Historical Review 57 (3): 697–698.

Whalen, Charles, and Barbara Whalen. 1985. The Longest Debate: A Legislative History of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Washington, DC: Seven Locks Press.

D. Marvin Jones

Civil Liberties Act (1988)

views updated May 18 2018

civil Liberties Act (1988)

Eric K. Yamamoto and Liann Y. Ebesugawa

Excerpt from the Civil Liberties Act

With regard to individuals of Japanese ancestry. The Congress recognizes that, as described by the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, a grave injustice was done to both citizens and permanent resident aliens of Japanese ancestry by the evacuation, relocation, and internment of civilians during World War II. As the Commission documents, these actions were carried out without adequate security reasons and without any acts of espionage or sabotage documented by the Commission, and were motivated largely by racial prejudice, wartime hysteria, and a failure of political leadership. The excluded individuals of Japanese ancestry suffered enormous damages, both material and intangible, and there were incalculable losses in education and job training, all of which resulted in significant human suffering for which appropriate compensation has not been made. For these fundamental violations of the basic civil liberties and constitutional rights of these individuals of Japanese ancestry, the Congress apologizes on behalf of the Nation.

The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 (P.L. 100-383), stands as a landmark. Through the act, Congress for the first time authorized a presidential apology to an entire group of Americans: Japanese Americans imprisoned by the United States because of their race during World War II without charges, trial, or evidence of necessity. Congress also mandated $1.2 billion in reparations (payment to compensate for damages) to these Japanese Americans and an additional amount to Aleut and Pribilof Islanders who had also been unlawfully imprisoned.


Following Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, U.S. government suspicions and public sentiment turned against Japanese Americans. Business leaders, the media, and government officials questioned the loyalty of Japanese Americans even though they were solid American citizens. Most were born, educated, and employed in the United States. Nevertheless, West Coast military commander General John DeWitt asserted that Japanese Americans were disloyal simply because of their Japanese heritage and he claimed they posed a threatened to national security, even though no Japanese American had engaged in any act of espionage or sabotage. DeWitt further stated that "a Jap is a Jap ... and [despite American birth, education, and citizenship] the racial strains are undiluted." With a fearful public clamoring for a scapegoat, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942. The order directed the military to impose a curfew and then forcibly to exclude from the western coastal areas and ultimately detain persons of Japanese ancestry, including American citizens. The order, which did not apply to persons of German or Italian ancestry, had popular support.

The government's racial exclusion and internment (imprisonment during wartime) actions undermined the Constitution. The Constitution's Fifth Amendment ensures U.S. citizens protection against the federal government's taking of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. It is also interpreted to guarantee equal protection of all citizens under the law. Without charges, hearings, or evidence of individual or racial group disloyalty, the government, with armed military standing by, removed 120,000 Japanese Americans from their homes, forcing them to abandon businesses, jobs, and belongings. They were first detained in makeshift assembly centers, with many sleeping in horse stalls at race tracks. From there, the government dispersed them to nine desolate internment prisons, encircled by barbed wire, in the western interior. Specifically, the internment prisons were located in California, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Wyoming, Colorado, and Arkansas. The camps were located in desert areas except for the two camps in Arkansas which were located in swamplands. Japanese Americans left their homes not knowing where they were going, for how long, on what grounds, or whether they would survive. More than 1,800 people did not survive, and those who did suffered deep, lasting psychological wounds, along with financial devastation.


The wounds were so deep that the Japanese American community refused to discuss the internment for many years. In the late 1960s during the heyday of the Civil Rights movement, a reparations movement emerged. Yet it was still another two decades before Japanese Americans took legal action, in two different kinds of lawsuits, to support the reparations movement.

The first type of lawsuit, in 1983, was coram nobis litigation, a rare legal procedure allowing the reopening of old cases of current importance. It was initiated by Fred Korematsu, Gordon Hirabayashi, and Min Yasui, who had been convicted during World War II for refusing to be interned. The Supreme Court had said at the time that the internment was constitutional because military necessity justified it. Forty years later, the coram nobis proceedings sought reversal of their convictions based on startling government World War II documents found in dust-covered boxes in 1981. Those documents revealed the following:

  1. before the internment all government intelligence services involved in the issue at the time had determined that West Coast Japanese Americans as a group posed no serious danger and that there was no basis for mass internment;
  2. the military based its internment decision on invidious racial stereotypes about Japanese Americans; and
  3. the military, the Department of Justice, and the Department of War concealed and destroyed key evidence, deliberately misled the Supreme Court, and fabricated the military necessity justification for the internment.

Based on this evidence the federal courts in the coram nobis cases found "manifest injustice," overturned the convictions of Korematsu, Hirabayashi, and Yasui, and thereby laid the legal foundation for reparations.

The second suit was a class action damages lawsuit, Hohri v. United States, filed by former internees to obtain compensation for the material and psychological harms of the internment. Although the courts ultimately dismissed that case because it was filed too long after the events, the suit led to greater public awareness of and education about the real internment story.

The reparations movement gained moral force from former internees and Asian American organizations together with a wide range of groups, including civil liberties groups, the NAACP, churches, veterans and labor associations, and even local governments. This support helped Asian American members of Congress from California and Hawaii to push through legislation creating the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. The commission's 1983 report, Personal Justice Denied, concluded that the causes of the internment were race prejudice, wartime hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.


In response to a variety of reparations effortsthe lawsuits, the commission's hearings and report, extensive lobbying by diverse groups, and persistent media reportingCongress passed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan.

Most important for many Japanese Americans, the act called for a formal presidential apology. It also authorized reparations of $20,000 for each surviving internee who was a U.S. citizen or legal resident immigrant at the time of internment. A 1992 amendment to the 1988 act remedied difficult questions of eligibility (for instance, for those barred from their homes but not incarcerated) and key problems with funding (it eliminated the need for yearly appropriations of money by establishing a fund from which reparations could be drawn).


The Office of Redress Administration (ORA), created by the act, implemented the reparations program. The act authorized the ORA to identify, register, verify, and administer reparation payments to eligible individuals within a ten-year period. The ORA worked effectively with the National Coalition for Redress/Reparations (NCRR) and the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) to provide information about reparations through Japanese American newspapers, community meetings, and newsletters. Former internees submitted over 60,000 reparations applications as a result of these collective efforts.

The 1988 act also established the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund to "sponsor research and public educational activities, and to publish and distribute the hearings, findings, and recommendations of the Commission." Public education became a major dimension of redress. Projects sponsored by the Education Fund produced high school, college, and law school curricula on the internment and civil liberties; documentaries on internment camp life; oral histories of survivors; and new research on the accommodation of national security and civil liberties.

The redress of wrongs committed against Japanese Americans was about much more than money. The Civil Liberties Act recognized the United States's grave injustice against its own citizens on account of their race, and it acknowledged the need to repair lasting wounds, both to Japanese Americans and to the Constitution.


Maki, Mitchell T., Harry H. L. Kitano, and S. Megan Berthold. Achieving the Impossible Dream: How Japanese Americans Obtained Redress. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1999.

Yamamoto, Eric K. "Friend or Foe or Something Else: Social Meanings of Redress and Reparations." Denver Journal of International Law and Policy 223 (1992).

Yamamoto, Eric K., et al. Race, Rights and Reparation: Law and the Japanese American Internment. New York: Aspen Publishers, 2001.

Japanese American Evacuation Claims Act of 1948

Eric K. Yamamoto and Liann Y. Ebesugawa

The Japanese American Evacuation Claims Act of 1948 provided for initial compensation to remedy damages. It fell far short, however, of the actual economic damages incurred. The act only compensated well-documented property losses, and did not even begin to measure the pain and suffering entailed. The process of making claims was slow, and because compensation was made on the basis of prewar prices, applicants received on average no more than ten cents on the dollar. The program, although well intentioned, was not designed to offer reparations for all wrongs suffered by Japanese Americans during the war. Additionally, the law was not flexible enough to cover the full range of situations and did not take into account intangible lossesthe cost of human anguish and the damage to reputation, the missed opportunities, and the years of captivity lost forever.

Civil Rights Acts

views updated May 23 2018


Federal legislation enacted by Congress over the course of a century beginning with the post-Civil War era that implemented and extended the fundamental guarantees of the Constitution to all citizens of the United States, regardless of their race, color, age, or religion.

The Civil Rights Acts of 1866 (14 Stat. 27) and 1870 (16 Stat. 140) were enacted to give newly freed slaves the same rights under federal law as those afforded to non-slaves. Such rights were the rights to sue and be sued, the rights to own real and personal property, and the rights to testify and present evidence in legal proceedings. Serious questions existed, however, as to the constitutionality of the 1866 act and to whether Congress actually had authority to enact such a measure. Subsequent to the passage of the fourteenth amendment in 1868, Congress reenacted the act pursuant to its power under the amendment to enforce the amendment through appropriate legislation. The Civil Rights Act of 1866 was, therefore, superseded by the civil rights Act of 1870.

In 1875 Congress passed a third Civil Rights Act (18 Stat. 336) in response to the refusal of many whites who owned public establishments, inns, railroads, and other facilities to make them equally available to blacks. The Civil Rights Act of 1875 prohibited racial discrimination in such places and guaranteed "full and equal enjoyment" of such places.

Violations of this act abounded and criminal prosecutions ensued. A number of convictions were appealed to the supreme court of the united states which in 1883 declared the act unconstitutional in the civil rights cases, 109 U.S. 3, 3 S. Ct. 18, 27 L. Ed. 835. The Court reasoned that the social rights that the act safeguarded were not civil rights and, therefore, Congress was powerless to legislate on the social conduct of private individuals. Following this decision, states began enacting segregation into various laws, the most notorious of which were the jim crow laws. It took more than eighty years before Congress would again attempt to legislate in this area.

The Civil Rights Acts of 1957 represented congressional recognition that the federal government had to bring about an end to racial discrimination. The civil rights commission was established and the laws guaranteed qualified voters the right to vote, regardless of their color. In the years 1964 to 1968 Congress enacted extensive and far-reaching legislation affording blacks equal status under the law, ranging from full and free enjoyment of public accommodations and facilities to the prohibition of racial discrimination in employment as well as transactions affecting housing in the United States.

The Civil Rights Act of 1991 granted to victims of unlawful discrimination the right to seek money damages, jury trials, and back pay.


Civil Rights; "Civil Rights Act of 1964" (Appendix, Primary Document); Ku Klux Klan Act; "Voting Rights Act of 1965" (Appendix, Primary Document).

Force Act of 1871

views updated Jun 27 2018

Force Act of 1871

Ross Rosenfeld

The Force Act of 1871 provided for federal scrutiny of congressional elections. The act, passed during the Ulysses S. Grant administration, was intended to prevent election fraud in Southern states during the Reconstruction era. The Force Act was sandwiched between the Enforcement Act of 1870, which established criminal penalties for interfering with an election, and the Enforcement Act of 1871, which permitted the suspension of habeas corpus. Intended to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment, the Force Act of 1871 was described as "an Act to enforce the rights of citizens of the United States to vote in the several states of this union." If a town or city had "upward of twenty thousand inhabitants," any two citizens of that town who wished to have an election "guarded and scrutinized" could request the regional U.S. Circuit Court to oversee it. In such cases the court was instructed to choose two bipartisan supervisors, who, under the court's protection, could regulate the election. The three acts are sometimes referred to collectively as the Enforcement Acts or the Force Acts.

Southern bigots responded to the Force Act with a wave of discriminatory actions, known as Jim Crow. Such policies as literacy tests and poll taxes (taxes for voting) still kept many blacks from voting. Some Southern states included measures prohibiting voting by blacks in their new constitutions. The Supreme Court did little to reverse this. In Giles v. Harris (1903) and Giles v. Teasley (1904), a black citizen challenged provisions such as these in the Alabama state constitution. The Supreme Court, however, ruled that it could not do anything about the provisions because they represented a "political question." It would take the Civil Rights movement, the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act to put these matters to rest.

See also: Civil Rights Act of 1964; Voting Rights Act of 1965.


Hakim, Joy. A History of U.S. Reconstruction and Reform. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

The Force Acts of 18701871. Northern Virginia Community College. <>.

Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987

views updated May 17 2018


CIVIL RIGHTS RESTORATION ACT OF 1987 expanded the coverage of previously enacted federal statutes prohibiting discrimination in employment and other areas. By passing the Restoration Act, Congress overrode a presidential veto and overturned the 1984 Supreme Court decision in Grove City College v. Bell. In Grove City College, the Court had effectively gutted Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, and by implication other antidiscrimination statutes, by holding that only those college programs directly receiving federal financial assistance, and not the college as a whole, had an obligation to not discriminate on the basis of sex. The purpose of the Restoration Act was to make clear that when any program or activity of an organization or entity—such as a college, medical center, or private contractor—receives federal funding, the entire organization or entity must comply with laws outlawing discriminatory practices based upon race, religion, color, national origin, gender, age, or disability. Thus, for example, if a college library receives a government grant to enable it to computerize, the entire college is required to comply with all federal civil rights laws. Similarly, a manufacturing company that makes airplane parts for the federal government must practice nondiscrimination in all of its other manufacturing operations as well. The Restoration Act effectively closed a number of significant loopholes in earlier civil rights statutes.


"The Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987—A Defeat for Judicial Conservatism." National Black Law Journal 12 (Spring 1990): 61–72.

Graham, Hugh Davis. "The Storm Over Grove City College: Civil Rights Regulation, Higher Education, and the Reagan Administration." History of Education Quarterly 38, no. 4 (winter 1998): 407–429.

JackHandler/c. p.

See alsoCivil Rights Act of 1964 ; Civil Rights and Liberties ; Civil Rights Movement .

Civil Rights Acts

views updated May 29 2018

Civil Rights Acts (1866, 1870, 1875, 1957, 1960, 1964, 1968) US legislation. The Civil Rights Act (1866) gave African-Americans citizenship and extended civil rights to all persons born in the USA (except Native Americans). The 1870 Act was passed to re-enact the previous measure, which was considered to be of dubious constitutionality. In 1883, the US Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the 1870 law. The 1875 Act was passed to outlaw discrimination in public places because of race or previous servitude. The act was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court (1883–85), which stated that the 14th Amendment, the constitutional basis of the act, protected individual rights against infringement by the states, not by other individuals. The 1957 Act established the Civil Rights Commission to investigate violations of the 15th Amendment. The 1960 Act enabled court-appointed federal officials to protect black voting rights. An act of violence to obstruct a court order became a federal offence. The 1964 Act established as law equal rights for all citizens in voting, education, public accommodations and in federally assisted programmes. The 1968 Act guaranteed equal treatment in housing and real estate to all citizens.

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Civil Rights Act of 1871