As the Civil Rights Act of 1964 turns fifty, antidiscrimination law has become unfashionable. Civil rights strategies are posited as not up to the serious task of addressing contemporary problems of inequality such as improving mobility for low-wage workers or providing access into entry-level employment. This Article argues that there is a danger in casting aside the Civil Rights Act as one charts new courses to address inequality. This Article revisits the implementation strategies that emerged in the first decade of the Act to reveal that the Act was not limited to addressing formal discrimination or bias, but rather drew on a broad set of private and public implementation tools to respond to evolving problems of exclusion. I argue that there is a value in retaining hold of the Act’s civil rights infrastructure, even as reformers develop other tools and strategies for promoting equity and inclusion. The Act continues to provide an important regulatory framework for addressing problems of exclusion facing a broad range of groups, across a range of domains (education, employment, transportation, environment, agriculture and more) and using a range of potentially powerful public and private enforcement strategies. For pragmatic as well as expressive reasons, there is value in continuing to leverage the Act’s great aspiration and powerful design.
Olatunde C. Johnson,
A Nation of Widening Opportunities: The Civil Rights Act at 50, Ellen D. Katz & Samuel R. Bagenstos, Eds., Michigan Publishing, 2015; Columbia Law School Public Law & Legal Theory Working Paper No. 14-378
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