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The Supreme Court affected civil rights by handing down a number of decisions that paved the way for the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. The Court's decisions helped create an atmosphere in which African Americans were optimistic about their chances of winning equal rights.
The Court's decisions were aimed at breaking down the idea (laid out in Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896) that racially segregated institutions could be constitutional so long as they were equal. In a series of rulings having to do with educational institutions (starting with graduate schools and ending with K-12 schools) the Court said that separate schools for the races were inherently unequal. This process culminated in the case of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.
By handing down decisions like these, the Court set out the idea that segregation in schools (and therefore, presumably in other areas) was unconsitutional. This helped blacks feel that a social movement could work (as it did) to gain them equal rights before the law).
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is most noted for making racial segregation illegal and for extending/protecting voting rights. Provisions in the act also extended protection of the rights of women. After passage, numerous Supreme Court decisions upheld the legislation and affirmed specific civil rights of individuals:
In a 1971 Supreme Court case regarding the gender provisions of the Act, the Court ruled that a company could not discriminate against a potential female employee because she had a preschool-age child unless they did the same with potential male employees . . . . The United States Supreme Court decided that printing separate job listings for men and women was illegal, which ended that practice among the country's newspapers . . . In 1974, the Supreme Court also ruled that the San Francisco school district was violating non-English speaking students' rights under the 1964 act by placing them in regular classes rather than providing some sort of accommodation for them . . . In 1977, the Supreme Court struck down state minimum height requirements for police officers as violating the Act; women usually could not meet these requirements.
In each of these rulings, the Supreme Court affected the civil rights of citizens.
Depends which time period you mean. There were those advocating civil rights for African Americans long before the 1950s and 60s. The Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896 ruled that segregation was, in fact, constitutional, setting the dream of black equality in the United States back another six decades. The Supreme Court was conservative in racial issues for much longer than it was progressive.
Even now there is a case that may reach the supreme court regarding a re-districting decision by a school district outside of Philadelphia. Apparently there are questions about whether race was used as a determining factor in the re-districting and it brings up questions about the legality of bussing, something that was brought before the supreme court nearly forty years ago. So obviously it has had a large influence in the past and will continue to affect civil rights into the future.
Because of the way the judicial system works, the Supreme Court continues to affect Civil Rights. At any time cases at the lower level may make it to the highest court.
In terms of historically we can definitely look at it from two views. We can say that wrongs that were made legal by decisions like Plessy vs. Ferguson and the first Brown vs. The Board of Ed were made right by later decisions. This can't take away what was done to African Americans before but we have to allow that the court has to evolve with society.
As we as an American society become more tolerant, so will the court.
The posters have done a good job of identifying civil rights regarding race issues, but don't forget there are a number of other areas in which the Supreme Court has had a hand. 1967 Miranda v Arizona was hugely impacting on civil rights. This ruling asserted that suspects must be informed of their rights and their right to legal council. This law is still impacting American civil rights.
I am interested in the comment made in #4:
The Supreme Court was conservative in racial issues for much longer than it was progressive.
To what extent did the Supreme Court actually obstruct and prevent racial equality in the United States, and when did it change from being a body that supported the status quo to becoming a force for social change? How did that change come about? It seems that the role of the Supreme Court should not be one that maintains injustices and inequalities, but tries to change laws to make the USA a more equal and a juster place.
An important element of Supreme Court protection of Civil Rights has been its position; stated in a number of decisions, that the protections of the Bill of Rights, (originally designed to protect citizens from abuses by the Federal Government) were extended to State abuses also. The list of cases which has extended those rights is legion. Miranda vs. Arizona has previously been noted. Also of some importance is Brown vs. Texas which said that burning the flag is a constitutionally protected form of speech; and of course Murray vs. Baltimore Board of Education which prohibited forced prayer and Bible reading in public schools. Civil Rights covers more than simply the rights of minorities; it extends to all Americans. Noteworthy is that as of yet, the Court has not yet extended Second Amendment Rights to the states; although it is probably only a matter of time.
There have also been cases where the Supreme Court did NOT uphold civil rights. I think that is important to point out. The problem is that the Supreme Court does not make social justice. The Court exists to interpret the Constitution and ensure that the cases that pass through are fairly heard, but not in terms of what is morally right and wrong. They only measure legality.
My grandmother had a box of CSpan video tapes. She threw them away because she no longer has a video tape machine.
I remember watching one tape of Chief Justice Burger holding a new conference about the 200th anniversary of the Constitution. In response to a question, he said that Chief Justice Roger Taney dealt a lot with due process. Taney coined the term, substantive due process, which meant that just following a legal procedure was not enough. The procedure had to be substantive, not just a show.
So if "due process" is a civil right, the court has been dealing with civil rights since at least the 1830's.
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