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CRS – The Civil Rights Act of 1964: An Overview

The Civil Rights Act of 1964: An Overview, September 21, 2020 [108 pages/PDF]: “The Civil Rights Act of 1964, comprised of eleven titles and numerous sections, has been called the “most comprehensive undertaking” to prevent and address discrimination in a wide range of contexts. From discriminatory voter registration practices to racial segregation in business establishments and public schools, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 enacted new prohibitions and protections targeting discriminatory conduct in different forms and diverse contexts. The Act not only created new statutory rights, but also designed distinct methods of enforcing these rights, and established federal entities responsible for the enforcement or facilitation of these protections as well. “In our time,” the Supreme Court has stated, “few pieces of federal legislation rank in significance.” Although the titles address discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, or sex, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was principally a legislative response to on going and pervasive conditions of racial segregation and discrimination inthe United States.Such conditions included the enforced exclusion of black citizens from a host of services and establishments affecting much of daily life: public libraries, public parks and recreation systems, public schools and colleges, restaurants, hotels, businesses, performance halls, hospitals and medical facilities, and any other setting designated as “white-only.” Legislative history reflects that Titles II, III, IV, and VI, for example,were enacted to address these forms of race-based segregation and discrimination. Though its titles share a thematic focus on discrimination,the 1964 Act—from a legal perspective—is perhaps best understood as a series of unique and distinct statutes.The titles vary in terms of the actions and practices they prohibit, whether and how an individual may seek relief for the violation of a title’s requirements, and available remedies for particular violations. Relatedly, where provisions of a title are enforced in federal courts, they have given rise to distinct lines of case law, questions of interpretation, and application. Federal courts have also interpreted the titles as having been enacted on different constitutional bases—the Commerce Clause, the Spending Clause, and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. The eleven titles differ in other respects as well. Some, such as Titles II and VI, enacted altogether new laws while others, such as Titles I and V, amended earlier federal civil rights laws. Among the titles which enacted new laws, one finds further differentiation: some, such as Titles II and VII, created new statutory rights and protections against private actors, while others, such as Titles III and IV, addressed the federal enforcement of constitutional rights and protections against state actors. These differences may have unique legal implications when amending one particular title or another…”

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