What is Civil Rights Law? How to Find a Civil Rights Lawyer

Civil Rights Law

What is Civil Rights Law?

Civil rights law refers to a series of rights that ensure that you are protected as a person in all of your essential rights and free from discrimination. The practice of civil rights law ensures that the government does not violate people’s civil rights guaranteed by U.S. law.

Governing Law

Strictly speaking, the term "civil rights" refers to the freedom from discrimination by federal government and entities receiving federal funds. These rights include the right to not be denied a chance to vote or other discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. These rights are guaranteed by the Civil Rights Acts of 1957, 1960, and 1964 and codified in Title 42 of the U.S. Code. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not eliminate qualifications tests for voting that were otherwise legal. Prior to the 1960s, voting districts would give literacy tests in order to prevent people of certain races from voting. All types of voting qualifications tests except for citizenship were later prohibited by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In the late 1970s, sexual harassment was added to the list of civil rights. Sexual harassment was barred from the same organizations that are barred from engaging in all other forms of discrimination.

The Civil Rights Act applies to all federal agencies, except for a few narrowly drawn exceptions. Some larger categories of exceptions include federally recognized Native American Tribes, religious organizations acting within the scope of their activities, including acting as an educational institution, and bona fide nonprofit private membership organizations. There are also some exceptions for a bona fide occupational qualification "discrimination." However, this exception has four complex requirements, and only an attorney can determine if the exception is likely to apply in your case.

Reasons for Hiring an Attorney

You should consult a civil rights lawyer to determine if your civil rights have been violated, since the mere existence of a discriminatory effect does not always prove discrimination in violation of the Civil Rights Act. There are two basic requirements to prove a discrimination case: discriminatory intent and discriminatory effect. The hard part about discrimination cases is proving a discriminatory intent.

In most cases, you can only bring suit if you are the one who has been harmed or you have sufficient reason to demonstrate standing. It typically requires a series of events for smaller situations such as sexual harassment to demonstrate the validity of your claim, although larger violations such as refusing someone the right to vote may require only a single instance. Often times though, it does take multiple events to gather enough evidence. Speaking with an attorney or law firm as the process develops allows you to learn how to best document the events.

Things to Look for in a Civil Rights Attorney

Finding an attorney who will give you an honest appraisal of your case is essential as you could otherwise waste a tremendous amount of money. A good law firm will look at your case and decide if there is enough evidence to get the case heard in court or whether you need to obtain more. If there is enough evidence, then the lawyer will likely try to file a motion for the party violating a person’s civil rights to stop.

A civil rights attorney will often be a constitutional law attorney as well. Most of the rights connect back to the constitutional freedoms guaranteed to citizens.

An additional positive trait for your attorney would be one who has a background in conflict resolution. Some cases are best settled out of the court system, and having an attorney who can serve as an effective mediator can help to resolve your legal issues.

Civil Rights Blogs

  • Keep Your Hiring Practices Legal

    A number of laws have been passed over the years regarding Civil Rights Law. These laws have had varying impacts on people, though for many business owners, the component of the Civil Rights Law that affects them the most is the equal opportunity in ...

  • Claudette Colvin: An Unsung Hero of the Civil Rights Movement

    Months before Rosa Parks, Claudette Colvin challenged the unfair treatment of Blacks If you've never heard the name Claudette Colvin, you're not alone. Colvin is just one of the many unsung heroes of the Civil Rights Movement, although her actions a...