The Civil Rights Act was signed into law by US president Lyndon B. Johnson in July 1964. Widely considered one of the great victories of the civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King Jr, the legislation made it illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity and outlawed public segregation. The ban on racial segregation also applied to schools and the workplace.
After the Civil Rights Act became the law of the land, it became subject to the United States’ system of checks and balances. ”Checks and balances” refers to a principle of governance that aims to create stability between separate branches of government. Separate branches are able to curb the powers of others so that power is shared and not isolated.
In the United States, there are three branches of federal government: legislative (the House and Senate), executive (the president and cabinet) and judicial (the Supreme Court). If a US president attempted to undermine the Civil Rights Act through executive power, that decision would be subject to judicial review. The Supreme Court would have to decide whether such a decision violates the Civil Rights Act. The same would apply if the legislative branch were to pass a bill that discriminates on the basis of race. The American system of checks and balances would mean that decision would be checked by the executive (who would be able to veto and nullify the bill, preventing it from becoming law) and the judicial branch, which would test the law’s constitutionality. The executive branch is largely responsible for curbing the powers of the judicial branch, since it has the power to appoint justices.
While the Civil Rights Act became law in 1964, attitudes toward race did not change overnight; the law has had to be enforced. Each branch has a role to play in the enforcement of the Civil Rights Act. This is to make sure that citizens are regarded as equals in the eyes of the law, regardless of race or ethnicity.