Wednesday, June 10, 2015
Contemporary legal discourse differentiates “civil rights” from “civil liberties.” The former are generally understood as protections against discriminatory treatment, the latter as freedom from oppressive government authority. This Article explains how this differentiation arose and considers its consequences.
Although there is a certain underlying logic to the civil rights-civil liberties divide, it in fact is the product of the unique circumstances of a particular moment in history. In the early years of the Cold War, liberal anticommunists sought to distinguish their incipient interest in the cause of racial equality from their belief that national security required limitations on the speech and due process rights of suspected subversives. Toward this end, they took two terms that had generally been used interchangeably and they created the civil rights-civil liberties distinction. Civil rights would forever after be attached to the struggle for racial equality and subsequent campaigns against other forms of public and private discrimination. Civil liberties would be attached to claims of individual freedom against generally applicable government regulatory power.
The civil rights-civil liberties divide was contested from the beginning, however. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the radical left condemned the divide as a tool for politically powerful liberal anticommunists to separate themselves from the declining fortunes of their former New Deal allies. In the 1960s, a new generation of critics of the divide made the case that the battles against discrimination and government oppression were indivisible. Some advocated a new label, “human rights,” which would subsume the categories of civil rights and civil liberties, while also recognizing social welfare rights. Despite these revisionist efforts, the civil rights-civil liberties divide survives, still contested, but also reinforced as each new generation puts it to new uses. This Article not only reconstructs the largely forgotten history of the origins of the civil rights-civil liberties divide, it also identifies the ways in which labeling and categorizing the legal landscape can advance or impede legal change.
Monday, June 1, 2015
"The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 'Legislating Morality': On Conscience, Prejudice, and Whether 'Stateways' Can Change 'Folkways'"
Influential studies, from the 1940s and 1950s, of the problem of prejudice and how to remedy it challenged the famous assertion of nineteenth-century sociologist William Graham Sumner that “stateways don’t change folkways,” and its modern counterparts, “you cannot legislate against prejudice” or “you cannot legislate morality.” Social scientists countered that, although people might initially protest, they would welcome a federal antidiscrimination law that aligned with conscience and closed the gap between American ideals and prejudice, creating new “folkways.” Using examples from the contexts of public accommodations, education, and employment, this Article examines similar arguments made about conscience and “legislating morality” in debates about the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (the “CRA”). Proponents argued that the national conscience demanded such a law because discrimination posed a moral crisis. Proponents and opponents of the CRA differed sharply on the role of federal law in addressing prejudice and discrimination. While proponents recognized the limits of what law could achieve, they argued that the CRA would remove artificial barriers created by segregation that constrained normal or natural human interaction. Opponents defended segregation as natural, Biblical, and part of the created order and warned that the CRA would usher in a dangerous and forced racial intermingling and line-crossing, particularly in marriage. Similar to the social scientists of the late 1940s and 1950s, supporters or the CRA appealed to experience with local and state antidiscrimination law and the World War II-era Fair Employment Practice Committee. The Article concludes with reflections on the present-day implications of this earlier “legislating morality” debate for controversies over LGBT rights and the evident clash between conscience, or religious liberty, on the one hand, and antidiscrimination law and marriage equality, on the other. This Article is part of a symposium, “The Civil Rights Act of 1964 at 50: Past, Present, and Future.”