HGov: Equal Rights Struggling Toward Fairness


civilrights_wordcloudDuring the past half-century, the United States has undergone a revolution in the legal status of its traditionally disadvantaged groups, including African Americans, women, Native Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans. Such groups are now provided equal protection under the law in areas such as education, employment, and voting. Discrimination by race, sex, and ethnicity has not been eliminated from American life, but it is no longer substantially backed by the force of law. This advance was achieved against strong resistance from established interests, which only begrudgingly and slowly responded to demands for equality in law.

civil_rights_judicialTraditionally disadvantaged Americans have achieved fuller equality primarily as a result of their struggle for greater rights. The Supreme Court has been an instrument of change for disadvantaged groups. Its ruling in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), in which racial segregation in public schools was declared a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal-protection clause, was a major breakthrough in equal rights. Through its affirmative action and other rulings, such as those providing equal access to the vote, the Court has also mandated the active promotion of social, political, and economic equality. However, because civil rights policy involves large issues concerned with social values and the distribution of society’s opportunities and benefits, questions of civil rights are inherently contentious. For this reason, legislatures and executives have been deeply involved in such issues. The history of civil rights includes landmark legislation, including the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

equality_rectangleIn more recent decades, civil rights issues have receded from the prominence they enjoyed during the 1960s. The scope of affirmative action programs has narrowed, and the use of forced busing to achieve racial integration in America’s public schools has been nearly eliminated. At the same time, new issues have emerged, including the question of whether same-sex couples will have the same rights as opposite-sex couples.

google-numbers2The legal gains of disadvantaged groups over the past half-century have not been matched by material gains. Although progress has been made, it has been slow. Compared with non-Hispanic whites, other Americans lag behind in levels of education, income, and health care. Tradition, prejudice, and the sheer difficulty of social, economic, and political progress stand as formidable obstacles to achieving a more equal America.

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