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Civil Rights Law Overview and Information
Civil rights include those rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights and the 13th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution, including the right to due process, equal treatment under the law of all people regarding enjoyment of life, liberty, property, and protection. Examples of civil rights are freedom of speech, press, assembly, the right to vote, freedom from involuntary servitude, and the right to equality in public places. Discrimination occurs when the civil rights of an individual are denied or interfered with because of their membership in a particular protected group or class. Federal and state laws exist to prevent discrimination against protected groups, based on a persons race, sex, religion, age, previous condition of servitude, physical limitation, national origin and in some instances, sexual preference.
The most prominent modern civil rights legislation is the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on "race, color, religion, or national origin" in public establishments that have a connection to interstate commerce or are supported by the state. Public establishments include places of public accommodation (e.g., hotels, motels, trailer parks), restaurants, gas stations, bars, taverns, and places of entertainment in general. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination in federally funded programs. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits employment discrimination where the employer is engaged in interstate commerce. There are other acts which deal specifically with other types of discrimination, such as discrimination based on age or disability.
Civil rights law practice generally involves protecting the rights of a protected group by enforcing laws that prohibit discrimination. Protected groups are defined by law. The most common areas for discrimination litigation include housing, employment, education, and voting. Civil rights practice may also involve allegations of unequal treatment of minorities in the criminal justice system, such as racial disparities in sentencing. Examples of cases that typically fall under this area of practice include police brutality, or discrimination based on an individual's race, religion, sex, disability or age. Civil rights lawyers often represent clients before government agencies, so they are skilled in administrative law as well as civil litigation.