Civil rights law ensures individuals' freedom from specific types of discrimination within society. It guarantees equal and just treatment for all members of society.

What Is Civil Rights Law?

This legal domain establishes protected groups, affording legal protection to individuals within these groups against discrimination based on their class characteristics.

What Are Civil Rights Laws?

Civil rights laws, both federal and state, are universally applicable and prohibit discrimination based on specified characteristics. For instance, federal civil rights laws mandate that public establishments such as restaurants and hotels cannot discriminate against individuals based on race. Refusal to serve someone on racial grounds violates U.S. civil rights laws.

Various civil rights laws safeguard diverse groups of citizens across different scenarios. These laws collaborate to uphold equality and fairness for all members of society.

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Categories of Civil Rights Law

While many are aware that race and gender are protected under civil rights laws, these are just a few among several classes safeguarded by such laws in the U.S. Some of these protected classes encompass age, sex, race, color, national origin, religion, and marital status.

The evolution of civil rights in the United States has been gradual and multifaceted, stemming from various sources including the U.S. Constitution, federal and state legislation, and judicial interpretations.

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Are Civil Rights and Constitutional Rights the Same Thing?

Civil rights and constitutional rights are interrelated realms of law, though they have distinct focuses. Constitutional rights, enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, apply universally to all Americans. These rights include protection against unlawful search and seizure, excessive use of police force, and cruel and unusual punishment. Additionally, constitutional rights ensure due process of law, guaranteeing individuals a fair opportunity to present their case in court before being deprived of property, liberty, or money.

On the other hand, civil rights primarily address discrimination against specific groups in society. While they encompass freedom within society, civil rights predominantly concern instances of discrimination by both governmental entities and private parties based on characteristics such as race and gender.

Although constitutional rights and civil rights often intersect, they differ in their focus: constitutional rights center on protection from unfair treatment by the government, while civil rights extend to discrimination from both public and private entities.

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Major Civil Rights Laws

Some of the most prominent U.S. civil rights laws encompass various aspects of societal equality and protection:

         The Age Discrimination Act of 1975 – Prevents age-based discrimination in federally funded programs

         Age Discrimination in Employment Act – Safeguards individuals aged 40 and above from workplace discrimination

         Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 – Mandates air carriers to accommodate passengers with disabilities

         Americans with Disabilities Act – Bars discrimination against individuals with disabilities in public accommodation, employment, and education

         Civil Rights Act of 1964 – Landmark legislation prohibiting discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin across public facilities

         Civil Rights Act of 1991 – Enhances the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by permitting civil claims for intentional employment discrimination

         The Equal Credit Opportunity Act – Prohibits credit discrimination based on protected traits

         Equal Pay Act of 1963 – Forbids gender-based pay disparities in the workplace

         Fair Housing Act – Outlaws housing discrimination based on protected statuses in sales, rentals, and financing

         Title IX – Ensures gender equality in education, requiring equal opportunities for both sexes in collegiate sports

         Voting Rights Act of 1965 – Prevents voter disenfranchisement due to discriminatory practices

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Top U.S. Supreme Court Civil Rights Cases

The U.S. Supreme Court frequently adjudicates civil rights cases, and several noteworthy decisions stand out:

Heart of Atlanta Motel Inc v. United States (1964)

Affirmed the enforceability of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, barring a large Atlanta motel from racially discriminating against potential customers.

Phillips v. Martin Marietta Corp (1971)

Prohibited gender discrimination by a company against women with young children, establishing that such discrimination must apply equally to men.

Pittsburgh Press Co. v. Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations

Forbade companies from segregating job postings based on gender, even extending to federal positions previously classified by gender.

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954)

Overturned Plessy v. Ferguson by deeming segregated facilities inherently discriminatory, mandating equal access to education for all races.

Shelley v. Kraemer (1948)

Invalidated racially restrictive covenants imposed by property associations, affirming equal property ownership rights regardless of race.

Loving v. Virginia (1967)

Declared bans on interracial marriage unconstitutional, safeguarding individuals' civil rights to marry irrespective of race.

Regents of the University of California v Bakke (1978)

Deemed quota-based affirmative action unconstitutional, but later rulings such as Grutter v. Bollinger (2003) upheld race-conscious admissions policies if part of a holistic evaluation process.

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Civil Rights Law Is Developing

The field of civil rights law is evolving alongside society's changing understanding of civil rights.

Civil rights attorneys play a pivotal role in this evolution by advocating for new legislation and litigating cases to advance the prohibition of discrimination based on protected classes.

Civil Rights Law Is Also State law

Although civil rights law is commonly associated with federal jurisdiction in the United States, many states also have their own civil rights laws.

In fact, some states have established agencies dedicated to investigating claims of discrimination in employment and education.

Civil rights attorneys must thoroughly explore all available channels for enforcing civil rights laws, including state and federal agency investigations, as well as state and federal court proceedings.

A key aspect of effectively practicing civil rights law involves understanding the appropriate avenues for taking action to uphold civil rights.

Who Practices Civil Rights Law?

Civil rights laws apply across the United States, and attorneys who enforce these laws may operate at various levels and in diverse settings. They might appear before the U.S. Supreme Court or practice in local communities. Some work for public interest organizations on large-scale initiatives, while others run solo practices serving individual clients.

Civil rights attorneys also include those employed by investigative agencies tasked with enforcing civil rights laws. For instance, they may investigate claims for the U.S. Department of Education or similar state agencies. Given that many civil rights cases are landmark decisions with nationwide implications, prestigious organizations and law firms often handle them.

Skilled civil rights attorneys may argue cases before the Supreme Court, while others may represent single clients in local discrimination claims. While some attorneys specialize exclusively in civil rights law, others integrate civil rights cases into a broader civil law practice. These attorneys are dispersed throughout the country, serving diverse communities nationwide.

Why Become a Civil Rights Lawyer?

Attorneys who want to change society have the opportunity to do so through practicing civil rights law.

A single civil rights case can greatly impact the entire United States with the stroke of a pen. Civil rights lawyers must work skillfully and diligently to bring about this change.

Civil rights lawyers also help individuals who are suffering at the hands of illegal discrimination. For lawyers who want to help people who need advocacy and for lawyers who enjoy handling widely impactful cases, civil rights law provides an exciting and fulfilling career choice.

How Much a Civil Rights Lawyer Earns Per Year

The annual salary of a civil rights lawyer can vary significantly based on factors such as location, experience, employer, and caseload. On average, civil rights lawyers in the United States can earn anywhere from $45,000 to $200,000 per year. Entry-level civil rights attorneys or those working in public interest organizations or smaller law firms may earn salaries at the lower end of this range, while experienced attorneys in larger firms or specialized practices may earn salaries at the higher end.

Location plays a significant role in determining salary levels, with civil rights lawyers practicing in major metropolitan areas or regions with a high cost of living generally commanding higher salaries than those in rural areas or areas with a lower cost of living. For example, civil rights lawyers in cities like New York, Washington D.C., or San Francisco may earn higher salaries compared to those in smaller cities or towns.

Experience also plays a crucial role in salary determination, with more experienced civil rights lawyers typically earning higher salaries than their less experienced counterparts. Additionally, civil rights lawyers who handle high-profile cases, work for prestigious law firms, or have a strong track record of success may command higher salaries due to their expertise and reputation in the field.

Infact, civil rights law can be a rewarding but challenging field, and salaries can vary widely depending on individual circumstances and career paths within the profession.