Civil rights are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and federal statutes. Some common examples are the freedom of speech, right to due process, equal protection under the laws, and the right to vote.
How do Civil Rights work?
Civil rights protect individuals’ freedoms from infringement by governments, social organizations, and private individuals. They ensure that the government does not discriminate or prevent persons from exercising their rights.
A Brief History of Civil Rights
The Bill of Rights
The drafters of the constitution believed the Bill of Rights was unnecessary because the constitution created a small government with limited powers. However, the states were reluctant to ratify the constitution without safeguards against undue government intrusion. As a result James Madison drafted the Bill of Rights, which was adopted by the 1st Congress. The Bill of Rights is based on fundamental and natural rights.
Post-Civil War Amendments
Following the civil war, northern legislators sought to guarantee the freedom of former slaves. Legislators granted certain rights to slaves and protected all citizens from discrimination. From 1865 to 1870 they passed the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery except for those duly convicted of a crime. The Fourteenth Amendment provided equal protection under the laws for all persons. The Fifteenth Amendment prohibited discrimination in voting rights.
In 1954, the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education ruled that separate educational facilities are inherently unequal and therefore laws that impose them violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin in employment, voting, schools, and public accommodations.
What if my rights are violated?
If you believe the government or its employees violated your rights, you should consult an attorney. In addition, you must file a claim against the government entity within 6 months of the incident.
Rights are not Absolute
All rights, even those specifically listed in the Constitution and amendments, are subject to government restriction. The Courts apply the greatest scrutiny to those government laws or actions that restrict fundamental rights. Fundamental rights are those rights which are found in the Constitution, through interpreting the Constitution, or that derive from natural rights.
Other protected rights include:
- The right to travel;
- The right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure;
- Freedom of religion;
- Freedom of the press;
- Right to bear arms;
- Right to speedy public trial by jury;
- Right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.
RBX Law is a licensed California civil rights lawyer.