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Racial Discrimination

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Racial and ethnic discrimination have had a long history in the United States, beginning with the importation of African slaves in the seventeenth century. The U.S. Civil War and the Thirteenth Amendment may have ended slavery, but they did not end racial discrimination. In fact, the U.S. legal system embraced for over 70 years a system of state-sponsored racial Segregation in schools, transportation, and public accommodations. In addition, blacks and other minorities were denied the vote. Ethnic discrimination has also been common, beginning with the first wave of Irish immigration in the 1830s. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, discrimination based on race and ethnicity developed with the first arrivals of each alien group. Thus, the Chinese, the Japanese, Italians, Jews, Hispanics, Vietnamese, Somalis, and other groups have encountered hostility and bias when they tried to find jobs or places to live. (Marshall, 2007)Since the 1960s, federal Civil Rights laws and Supreme Court decisions have sought to combat illegal discrimination based on race or ethnicity.

In the aftermath of the Civil War, Radical Republicans in the Congress were determined to protect the civil rights of blacks. They enacted the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments partially out of concern that future congresses could easily revoke statutory solutions. The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery and gave Congress the power to eradicate all vestiges of involuntary servitude. The Fourteenth Amendment proved to be the most profound and far-reaching of all federal Reconstruction legislation. In its three main clauses, the amendment guaranteed citizens' protection from the actions of state and local officials, based on equal protection, due process, and the concept of privileges and immunities. . The Fifteenth Amendment declared that federal and state government could not deny or abridge the right to vote because of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

Even after the Civil War had ended and the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments had outlawed slavery and guaranteed the civil rights of "all persons born or naturalized in the United States" (U.S. Const. amend. XIV), southern states and localities established the racially discriminatory Jim Crow lawsвЂ"also known as the Black CodesвЂ"to keep African Americans from enjoying legal equality with whites. The Jim Crow Laws emerged in southern states after the U.S. Civil War ( Marshall, 2007). First enacted in the 1880s by lawmakers who were bitter about their loss to the North and the end of slavery, the statutes separated the races in all walks of life. The resulting legislative barrier to equal rights created a system that favored whites and repressed blacks, an institutionalized form of inequality that grew in subsequent decades with help from the U.S. Supreme Court. Although the laws came under attack over the next half century, real progress against them did not begin until the Court began to dismantle segregation in the 1950s. The remnants of the Jim Crow system were finally abolished in the 1960s through the efforts of the Civil Rights Movement ( Marshall, 2007).

Radical Republicans used these constitutional amendments as the basis for many pieces of civil rights legislation. The Civil Rights Acts of 1866, 1870, and 1871 are usually called the Reconstruction Civil Rights Acts ( Marshall, 2007). The provisions of these acts are both civil and criminal in nature, and several of these statutes have assumed great importance in modern civil rights litigation. The most important of these statutes, 42 U.S.C.A. SECTION 1983 provides that any person who under color of law subjects another individual to the deprivation of any federal right shall be liable to the injured party in an action at law or in Equity. A similar provision in the federal criminal code imposed penal sanctions against persons who willfully engage in such conduct (18 U.S.C.A. Ð'§ 242).

The federal government ceased to enforce these and other Reconstruction statutes in the Southern states after federal military occupation ended in 1876. African Americans lost their right to vote and were excluded from juries as the white power structure reasserted control of the political and legal systems in the South. In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down civil rights laws, including a broad statute that barred racial discrimination in public transportation and accommodations, in large part because the Court perceived a dangerous tilt in the federal-state power relationship. By the end of the nineteenth century, the Supreme Court had made clear that it favored giving the states more power than the federal government in regulating the actions of their citizens. The 1896 decision in Plessy V. Ferguson163 U.S. 537, 16 S.Ct. 1138, 41 L.Ed. 256 (1896), which endorsed the concept of separate but equal, legitimized state-mandated racial segregation ( Marshall, 2007).

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the tidal wave of immigrants from Europe and the presence of Chinese on the West Coast led to calls for immigration restriction. Discrimination against immigrants was commonplace. The Chinese in California had obtained a ruling a generation earlier from the Supreme Court that established a powerful legal weapon against racial or ethnic discrimination. In Yick Wo V. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356, 6 S.Ct. 1064, 30 L.Ed. 220 (1886), Yick Wo, a native and subject of China, was convicted and imprisoned for violating an ordinance of the city of San Francisco, California, which made it unlawful to maintain a laundry "without having first obtained the consent of the board of supervisors, except the same be located in a building constructed either of brick or stone" (Davis, Johnson, Martinez, 2001).

The 1880 ordinance was neutral on its face, but its purpose and its administration appeared suspect to Yick Wo and other Chinese. Most laundries in San Francisco were owned by Chinese and were constructed out of wood. The few laundries owned by whites were located in brick buildings. At the time the ordinance was passed, Chinese immigration had brought around 75,000 Chinese to California, half of whom lived in San Francisco (Davis, Johnson, Martinez, 2001). The white population became increasingly anti-Chinese and sought ways to control the Chinese population. The Court stated for the first time that a state or municipal law that appears to be fair on its face would be declared unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause because of its discriminatory purpose.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909 signaled that the twentieth century battle for civil rights had begun. The NAACP used the federal courts to challenge various types of voting discrimination in the 1920s and 1930s, and, by the 1940s, it had initiated litigation

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