Thursday, December 09, 2004

civil rights: an overview

A civil right is an enforceable right or privilege, which if interfered with by another gives rise to an action for injury.

Examples of civil rights are freedom of speech, press, assembly, the right to vote, freedom from involuntary servitude, and the right to equality in public places.

Discrimination occurs when the civil rights of an individual are denied or interfered with because of their membership in a particular group or class.

Statutes have been enacted to prevent discrimination based on a persons race, sex, religion, age, previous condition of servitude, physical limitation, national origin and in some instances sexual preference.

The most important expansion of civil rights in the United States was the enactment of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments.

The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery throughout the United States.
See U.S. Const. amend. XIII.

In response to the 13th Amendment, various states enacted "black codes" which were intended to limit the civil rights of the newly free slaves.

In 1868 the 14th Amendment was passed to counter the "black codes" and ensure that no state "shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of the citizens of the United States . . . [or] deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, [or] deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

See U.S. Const. amend. XIV.

More from the Legal Information Institute, Cornell University Law School

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