The issue of civil rights in America has been a topic of controversy and unraveling oppression since the founding of the country. Although the phrase “All men are created equal” was famously penned in the Declaration of Independence signed in 1776, America did not legally outlaw slavery until 1865 with the ratification of the 13th Amendment, or grant the right to citizenship and equal protection under the law to African Americans until 1866 with the ratification of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. As history has progressed, America outlawed segregation in the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination of any kind on the bases of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Since 1964, the Civil Rights act has served as main basis for prosecuting and interpreting discrimination.

The Role of Attorney General Offices

Many attorney general offices have dedicated, affirmative civil rights enforcement programs. The authority of each state attorney general differs from state to state, so state attorneys generally use a variety of methods to enforce state and federal civil rights such as:

  • Engaging in affirmative plaintiff litigation on behalf of their residents to enforce civil rights laws;
  • Representing state civil rights agencies in enforcement proceedings;
  • Filing a brief as amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) to weigh in on important legal issues in court proceedings where they are not a party to the case;
  • Issuing advisory opinions on a variety of issues, including civil rights; and
  • Publicly advocating for policy changes and engaging in outreach and other activities to rights.

Topics Related to Civil Rights

Civil rights discourse remains a pivotal focus in American politics and continues to shape daily life for all. Government lawyers will often interact with cases that fall into the realm of civil rights which include, but are not limited to discrimination and crimes perpetrated based on an individual’s:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Race, ethnicity, or country of origin
  • Religion
  • Sex or gender

Topics that commonly fall into the category of civil rights cases may be related to:

  • Housing
  • Police use of force
  • Voting rights
  • Employment