Many Floridians talk about civil rights and how an individual’s civil rights may be violated from time to time. But where do these civil rights come from? Following is a discussion of the origin of American civil rights and what that means for you if you find yourself facing a civil rights violation in Florida.
In general, civil rights are recognized in one of two ways:
Federal legislation, or
federal court decisions.
The Federal government establishes the basic set of civil rights that every American state must recognize. Although states may recognize more civil rights than the federal government does, it may not choose to recognize fewer civil rights than have been established by the federal system.
The original set of civil rights recognized by the Federal government can be found in the Bill of Rights, which was ratified by Congress in 1791. The Bill of Rights, which consists of what upon passage became the first ten amendments to the Constitution, established that Americans have rights including freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, the right to keep and bear arms, freedom from cruel and unusual punishment, and the right to a fair trial by jury.
Almost all of the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights have since been incorporated against the states, which means held to apply to state and local governments, by subsequent Supreme Court decisions over the years. Initially the Bill of Rights only applied to the federal government, but decisions of the Supreme Court like Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad v. City of Chicago in 1897 and Gitlow v. New York in 1925, the latter of which expressly stating that the right to free speech must be recognized by individual states.
The federal government may recognize a civil right via Congress in the form of a statute. For instance, Congress chose to protect voting rights for people of color by way of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Fair Housing Act established the right to fair housing for all by prohibiting housing discrimination against several protected classes, such as race, color, sex, familial status, and disability. Meanwhile, Congress chose to recognize the right to accessibility for those with disabilities in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
Federal Court Decisions
The American judiciary may move to recognize a civil right by handing down a decision that does so. Perhaps one of the most notable instances of this was in the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. The Board of Education. In Brown, the Warren Court found that children of color have the right to be free of racial segregation in public schools.
Individual states nearly all have civil rights laws written into their own government framework that are nearly identical to those enacted by the Federal government. Though states may not recognize fewer civil rights than the federal government does, states may choose to recognize more. For instance, prior to Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015, over half of the states in the United States did not recognize the right of same-sex marriage (including Florida).