The Civil Rights Act of 1875, a notable piece of post-Civil War legislation, prohibited racial discrimination in public accommodations and barred exclusion from jury service based on race. Its foundation was the 13th and 14th Amendments, which abolished slavery and ensured equal protection, respectively. However, the act faced enforcement challenges, especially in the South. In 1883, the Supreme Court, in the Civil Rights Cases, declared parts of the act unconstitutional, arguing that the 14th Amendment did not cover private acts of discrimination.
The Civil Rights Act of 1875, is sometimes referred to as the Enforcement Act or the Force Act, was an important piece of legislation in the United States during the Reconstruction era after the Civil War. Its provisions aimed at addressing racial discrimination in various spheres of public life.
The act explicitly prohibited racial discrimination in public accommodations, including inns, public conveyances on land or water, theaters, and other places of amusement. Building on this provision, the act also aimed to ensure fairness in the legal system. It barred the exclusion of any citizen from jury service based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude. To make sure these rules were adhered to, the legislation imposed fines and penalties on anyone denying equal treatment or anyone who failed or neglected to uphold the duties tied to the Act.
The backdrop for the enactment of this legislation was the post-Civil War social and political environment. The 13th and 14th Amendments had already laid the groundwork, abolishing slavery and guaranteeing equal protection under the law, respectively. Despite these constitutional changes, there was a recognized need for federal legislation to ensure African Americans were treated equitably, especially in the Southern states.
However, the act faced significant challenges post its enactment. In many parts of the country, particularly the South, there was strong resistance. Compliance was often minimal, with violations being widespread. This situation was further complicated by a landmark Supreme Court review. In 1883, the act came under scrutiny in a series of cases known collectively as the Civil Rights Cases. The Supreme Court declared the public accommodations section of the Act unconstitutional, reasoning that the 14th Amendment empowered Congress to legislate only against state infringements of civil rights, not those by private individuals. This ruling significantly reduced the act's efficacy.
Although the Civil Rights Act of 1875 faced challenges in its enforcement and impact, its objectives would find resonance in future legislative endeavors. The aspirations of the 1875 Act were eventually mirrored in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which effectively outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The 1875 Act thus stands as a testament to early efforts to establish a legislative framework for civil rights in the United States.