Civil Rights Timeline

  • Dred Scott v. Sandford

    Dred Scott v. Sandford
    An enslaved man from Missouri, Dred Scott lived in Illinois - which was a free state - for eleven years. Upon returning to Missouri, Scott filed suit - claiming that his residence in a free state granted him freedom. He lost with a 7-2 decision, with the court claiming that Scott didn't have the right to sue in federal court (because he wasn't a citizen), that the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional, and that slave owners' rights to hold enslaved people was protected by the Fifth Amendment.
  • 13th Amendment

    13th Amendment
    The obvious impact of the 13th Amendment was the ending of chattel slavery and involuntary servitude, but it notably doesn't disallow forcing a person convicted of a crime to be forced to work. The 13th has also been used to justify public service, such as military and jury duties. Additionally, Section Two allows for the removal of "badges and incidents of slavery," these are left to Congressional interpretation, and has been used in many civil rights cases such as those in the 1960s and 70s.
  • 14th Amendment

    14th Amendment
    The ratification of the 14th Amendment led to the establishment of five key clauses. The Citizenship Clause defined citizenship, which lacked comprehensive rules up until then. The Due Process Clause is similar to the Fifth Amendment, but focuses on the states rather than the fed. The Equal Protection Clause is just what it sounds like. The Enforcement Clause gives Congress ability to enforce the 14th, and the Privileges or Immunities Clause says that no states can restrict a person's rights.
  • 15th Amendment

    15th Amendment
    While the 15th Amendment guaranteed the right to vote in 1870, it was functionally ignored during the Jim Crow-era, with restrictions in place that made it difficult for black and poor white people to vote. This era of disenfranchisement lasted until 1965. While the Court initially didn't find these unconstitutional, the key change to the situation was the enacting of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which outlawed state poll prerequisites such as poll taxes and literacy tests.
  • Plessy v. Ferguson

    Plessy v. Ferguson
    Despite the promises of equality set forth by the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, black people living in the South were still disenfranchised and discriminated against. States began to mandate segregated railroad cars,and from there, more and more Jim Crow-era policies became the norm. In Plessy v. Ferguson, the Court declared that separate-but-equal facilities were constitutional, and that any protections from the 14th only applied to civil and political rights - and not social rights.
  • 19th Amendment

    19th Amendment
    While a few states allowed women to vote before the ratification of the 19th Amendment, not many fell into this category - and even fewer allowed women to vote in national elections. Initially, suffragists fought for their right to vote through the 14th Amendment - but later shifted to advocating for their own amendment. Despite multiple failures in Congress, splits in the movement, and lack of support from Democrats on a national scale - the Amendment was just barely passed by Tennessee.
  • Equal Rights Amendment

    Equal Rights Amendment
    Originally introduced at a conference by Alice Paul in 1921, the ERA wasn't approved by the Senate until 1972. Although it got ratification from 30 states within a year of approval, conservative opposition saying that women would lose privileges - such as exemption from military service - brought ratification to a halt. Advocates argued that laws should be designed for individuals rather than gender, and that there should be no legal distinctions between genders.
  • Brown v. Board of Education

    Brown v. Board of Education
    In the 1950s, much of the US had racially segregated schools. While this was defended under Plessy v. Ferguson, these schools weren't equal. This case was one of many filed in the early 1950s with the NAACP, and proved that the separation of schools had dangerous mental health affects and that racial segregation was inherently unequal - and thus unconstitutional. The Court ruled a unanimous decision: that racial segregation in schools violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
  • Affirmative Action

    Affirmative Action
    Under Johnson's presidency, the federal government instituted affirmative action policies through the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Executive Order 11246 - banning discriminatory practices that barred minorities from having equal access to jobs and educations. Although the Court outlawed racial quotes, it still allowed using race as a factor in admissions decisions. In the 1980s and 90s, more dissent towards affirmative action was voiced - being banned in some places, but still existing today.
  • 24th Amendment

    24th Amendment
    Initially, the qualifications of voters were left up to states - many of whom limited voting to property owners, and then later poll taxes. By the nineteenth century, most states had gone away with these requirements, and extended the right to all free white men. But with the adoption of the 15th Amendment, a few states brought back poll taxes (and other restrictions like literacy tests) in an attempt to disenfranchise black voters. The 24th outlawed these practices, but only on a federal level.
  • Civil Rights Act of 1964

    Civil Rights Act of 1964
    The Civil Rights Act was initially proposed by JFK in response to protests throughout the South, and was completed by Johnson. The Act bands segregation based in race, religion, or natural origin at all public spaces, and also banned race, religious, national origin, and gender discrimination by unions and employers. It also banned the use of federal funds for discriminatory programs. The Act was later expanded to add disabled, elderly, and female Americans, and paved the way for later laws.
  • Voting Rights Act of 1965

    Voting Rights Act of 1965
    While the 24th Amendment covered federal elections, voting discrimination still happened on a state level. The Voting Rights Act banned the use of poll taxes and literacy tests and provided federal oversight of voter registration in places where less than half of the non-white population wasn't registered to vote. While some areas ignored the law, it gave African-American voters the ability to challenge these restrictions - leading to a jump in voter registration and turnout.
  • Poll Taxes

    Poll Taxes
    The history of poll taxes in America goes back beyond the Revolutionary War - with Connecticut requiring them in 1649. However, most states began requiring them in the mid-1800s just before and after the passing of the 15th Amendment in an effort to undermine black voters. In some places, poll taxes were cumulative - requiring payment for any missed years. Initially the Court found poll taxes to be Constitutional, but the 24th Amendment and Voting Rights Act changed this - outlawing poll taxes.
  • White Primaries

    White Primaries
    Beginning in the 1920s, Southern states began using white primaries as a way to suppress African-American voters by excluding them from Democratic Party membership. In many places in the South, the Democratic Party was guaranteed success - to an extent where in some areas, Republicans wouldn't bother to run. The Court initially declared that this wasn't illegal but that states couldn't endorse them, but later marked them as violations of the 15th Amendment.
  • Reed v. Reed

    Reed v. Reed
    Sally Reed's ex-husband Cecil was an abusive father and husband. During one of her son's custody visits, he was found dead in the basement. Because her son died without a will, she filed a petition to be administrator of his estate - and so did Cecil. Idaho law automatically preferred men to women with estate administration, so Sally Reed took it to court - and in a unanimous decision, the Court declared it unconstitutional under the 14th, opening the door to others in similar positions.
  • Regents of the University of California v. Bakke

    Regents of the University of California v. Bakke
    The Medical School of the University of California at Davis reserved 16 out of 100 seats in its entering class for minorities. A white applicant - Allan Bakke - was denied admission twice despite his scores being higher than some admitted minority applicants. He sued the school, claiming they were in violation of the Civil Rights Act and the 14th Amendment. The Court ruled that states can consider race as a factor in admissions, but only alongside other factors and on case-by-case bases.
  • Bowers v. Hardwick

    Bowers v. Hardwick
    After a police officer entered the home of Michael Hardwick in Atlanta and witnessed him having sex with another man (arresting both under Georgia's antisodomy statute), Hardwick filed suit, claiming that the law violated his right to privacy. The Supreme Court ruled that the right for gay men to engage in sodomy wasn't protected in the Constitution, that the right to privacy didn't protect gay sex, that the right to have gay sex wasn't a fundamental one, and that the law protected morality.
  • Americans with Disabilities Act

    Americans with Disabilities Act
    While the history of disability rights in America is a long one - the real legal turn was in 1973 with the Rehabilitation Act, which banned discrimination on the basis of disability. After Reagan took office, disability activists had to fight to keep even those during his deregulation task force - and they won. Disability advocacy grew in the 1980s - with constant cases and battles. Advocacy was based around personal anecdotes - and in 1988, the ADA was drafted, and made effective in 1992.
  • Lawrence v. Texas

    Lawrence v. Texas
    After responding to a weapons disturbance at John Lawrence's apartment, him and his companion were arrested by police under a Texas antisodomy statute. They were found guilty and fined $20o each. Lawrence's case was taken up, and tried to appeal that it violated the Equal Protection Clause - failing due to Bowers v. Hardwick. Eventually it reached the Supreme Court, which ruled that the Texas law should be struck down, and that Bowers v. Hardwick should be overruled as well.
  • Obergefell v. Hodges

    Obergefell v. Hodges
    In 1972, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case of a same-sex couple filing for a marriage license, functionally leaving the decision to the states- who began to explicitly define marriage as between a man and woman, and eventually DOMA was passed - granting only straight couples federal benefits. In the early 2000s, states began legalizing gay marriage and domestic partnerships. This case argued that the laws were in violation of the 14th, and won - also effectively dissolving DOMA.