Civil Rights

The main civil rights issue is not whether or not government can treat people differently, but rather such differences are reasonable.

Government treats people differently by income levels, no one complains.

Early Black Leadership strategy:

Publicize civil rights injustices

Get issues decided in the courts instead of congress

After the strategy had been successful, politics become more convention

Focused on economic development, improvement of housing, etc.


Fourteenth amendment challenges

"equal protection of the laws", read broadly, implies color-blind constitution

"equal protection of the laws", read narrowly, implies that blacks and whites only have certain common rights, and that otherwise they can be treated equally.

NAACP got on the scene; its publication The Crisis was edited by W. E. B. Du Bois

Began fighting legal battles

Legal battles are much easier to fight than policy-making politics


    1. Get court to declare unconstitutional laws creating schools that were separate but clearly unequal
    2. Get court to declare unconstitutional laws supporting schools that were separate but unequal in not-so-obvious ways
    3. Get court to rules that to racially separate schools is inherently unequal and hence unconstitutional.

Dredd Scott V. Sanford:

Supreme court claimed that blacks were not citizens.

Plessey v. Fergusson.

Adolph Plessy claimed that being forced on a black-only train car was unconstitutional; Supreme court said that "Separate but equal" was constitutional

Separate but equal

Jim Crow – differentiate via race

Brown v. Board of Education

Actually was a consolidation of three separate cases.

Basis of decision: separate but equal isn’t constitutional

Original intent response: Plessy v. Fergusson was WRONG, but Brown v. Board of Education was correct but for the wrong reason.


South resisted strongly

Southern Manifesto signed by southern congressmen claimed Brown v. Board was "abuse of judicial power"

National guard was used to enforce

Types of segregation

DeJure – segregation required by law

DeFacto – segregation that people naturally do themselves.

Swann v. Charlotee-Meckenburg Board of Education

School board assigned students to schools based upon geography

Federal district court ordered bussing to achieve integration

Supreme court upheld bussing

Resulting interpretation of constitution:

    1. to violate the constitution, a school system must have engaged in discrimination. I.e. there must be intent
    2. The existence of all-white or all-black schools in a district with a history of segregation creates a presumption of intent to discriminate
    3. The remedy for past discrimination may include racial quotas, redrawn district lines, and court-ordered bussing.

Bakke v. UC Davis

Bakke applied to UC Davis for medical school, sued because UC Davis had racial quotas for entry

Supreme court said "Race can be a factor, but not the final one"

Adarrand v. Pena

State was giving 10% discount to bids from minorities

Supreme court struck law down

The latest supreme court decision

The issue is no longer a race or class – now it is only protecting individuals: unless you can show specific discriminatory injury, the government cannot give you compensation

Current standard used: Strict Scrutiny

A law which allegedly discriminates on the basis of race, it is presumed to be unconstitutional.

Thus, evidence must be presented to convince them otherwise.


The Black Campaign in congress

First task: Get civil rights on the political agenda

Nonviolent civil disobedience worked well

Hard to control and keep nonviolent

Younger blacks, angry, caused riots, etc.

Resulted in many digging in their heels against "the troublemakers"


  1. People became generally more accepting of black and white integration
  2. Violent reactions by white segregationists were picked up by the media, and made public realize atrocity of civil rights violations
  3. Kennedy’s assassination helped Johnson get civil rights legislation passed in his memory
  4. 1964 sent large number of dems to the house and senate. Thus, they could out-manuver the southerners.



Gender as an issue

Originally: Reasobableness standard – is the law reasonable when drawing distinction between men and women.

The court moved towards strict scrutiny

But it has since backtracked – to a suspect classification:

It must be reasonable, but we don’t necessarily have strict scrutiny

Griswald v. Connecticut (1964)

Connecticut law (wasn’t enforced) said married persons could not obtain birth control

Griswald was a local leader of Planned Parenthood

Griswald bought contraceptives, was convicted.

Supreme court said: when you connect the various rights, you end up getting a pretty large territory. Specific rights referred to in the bill of rights are called "umbral" – from those rights, you have emanations, covering an area they call penumbral. The Whole penumbral area is "the right of privacy."

Roe V. Wade

Says persons have rights

Thus you must define what a person is.

The supreme court says persons exist after 6 months of gestation – point of viability.

Even though modern technology has pushed viability back to 4 months, supreme court hasn’t changed its mind

"viability" is an illogical idea – what one-year-old is viable?

Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992)

Somewhat narrowed Roe v. Wade – state could say "come in one day to schedule an abortion, but you must get it on a different day"

Yet the state may not make you watch a film about how far-developed the baby is

"State cannot force you to define your idea of life in a certain way"

Right of privacy -> substantive due process


Colorado’s Proposition 2

Hate-crimes law – persons who commit crimes under various circumstances for certain reasons might be subject to greater punishment


Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

"make reasonable accommodations" to help those with disabilities

Age Discrimination

Government has age-discriminatory laws


Eric Jonas's 1998-1999 AP American Government Notes
This material copyright Eric Jonas, 1999.
These notes have been taken from American Government, 7th edition, by Wilson and DiIulio, and from in-class lecture by Mr. Greg Sandmeyer at Timberline High School.