This article is written by Ms. Sushree Surekha Choudhury from KIIT School of Law, Bhubaneswar. The article gives an elaborate description of the United States Civil Rights Act of 1964 and tells stories of history that led to its enactment. The article also talks about its implementation in the US through judicial pronouncements and departments of government.

It has been published by Rachit Garg.


Imagine you are in your favourite cafe in town sipping on your favourite hazelnut latte. Sounds good? Now suddenly, the cafe owner makes an announcement that they are making some ground rules in the cafe wherein only people who would visit wearing green-coloured shirts would be allowed to sit in the cafe and sip on their favourites. Wouldn’t you be ridiculed? The owner further adds that only the people who own a white Tesla Model X would be ‘eligible’ to visit the cafe. It sounds ridiculous and absurd, doesn’t it? Now imagine a similar situation faced by half a country for decades but only at places and services far more crucial like education and employment! That is how the civil rights movement began in the United States and went on to the historic legislation being enacted. In this article, we shall learn about its history, developments, and struggles that led to how it stands today.

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After years of political and societal struggle, on 2nd July 1964, US President Lyndon Johnson signed the bill into law to enforce the Civil Rights Act (1964) in the United States. This Act pioneered the rights of US citizens by eliminating discrimination on the basis of caste, colour, creed, religion, class, etc. It granted people equality and freedom. It provided equality in opportunity and in education. It further advocated for granting voting rights to every US citizen irrespective of race. It lawed desegregation in education and employment in all industrial sectors such as hotels, theatres, etc. It also outlawed segregation in public places such as libraries, pools, parks, schools, etc. It made uniform laws for voter registration all across the United States without any discrimination. It ended racial discrimination in public accommodations and other public utility services and facilities. The 1964 Act came as an amendment to the previous 1957 and 1960 Acts. Most importantly, the 1964 Act protects citizens of America from unlawful or discriminatory acts of the state and its authorities. 

In this article, we shall learn about the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in detail and conduct a critical analysis of the same.

Development of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: legislative history

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 not only granted civil and political rights to US citizens but also became a boon to the minority groups in the country. The US Constitution did not make an express provision for protecting minority rights in the US. However, the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments post the Civil War period made certain provisions such as abolishing slavery, providing equal protection under the law to the minorities, and granting them voting rights and citizenship, especially to African Americans. These amendments empowered the US Congress to bring legislative reforms for the minorities. However, the US government and lawmakers made little or no effort to bring legislative reforms on civil rights until the 1900s. It was during World War II, when the Black soldiers faced discrimination and atrocities in the army, that the civil rights movements started gaining seriousness. Black people in the US also faced difficulties in joining the army as the recruitment process discriminated on the basis of race and thereby rejected them. It was during this time that the voices demanding basic civil rights reached the senators. 

In 1945, 1947, and 1949, the House of Representatives voted against the poll tax and the 24th Amendment ended the poll tax in 1964. The poll tax restricted the right to vote in the US. Although the senators did not give this bill a green signal, it marked the beginning of the fight for civil rights in the US. This attracted federal action and the federal executive’s attention towards making changes by inculcating non-discrimination in state military services, federal employment and contracts with the federal government. 

The US Supreme Court joined the movement in the 1950s. Post World War II, federal courts in the United States started ruling judgements in favour of minority groups. In a historic judgement in 1954, the Supreme Court agreed to hear and try a case that involved the issue of racial segregation in government-run schools. American society had always ignited racial discrimination in the country and the schools were no different. The schools made discrimination in admission and education between the Black and whites of the US. This was not only discriminatory but also demeaning to Black people. The schools made discrimination under the name of ‘separate but equal’ opportunities in education. This feature made provisions for separate schools for white children and for Black children, and neither was granted admission in the other. The rule-makers stated that learning besides Black children would decrease the learning capacity of whites. The Supreme Court struck down this segregation rule in this landmark judgement of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954). The Supreme Court criticised the concept of ‘separate but equal’ stating that the two can never coexist. Separate itself denotes inequality. Thus, the Supreme Court struck down the legality of this concept and stated that Black and white children cannot further be asked to attend separate schools for education. This was a historic judgement in the United States civil rights history because it was like a ray of hope in the darkness for the oppressed classes of the society. This was, however, just the beginning and legislative reforms were the need of the hour. 

Although the US Congress had made several efforts and introduced bills to guarantee civil rights to its citizens, they could never become law. It was only after the Brown v. Board of Education judgement that successful efforts started taking place. The US Congress enacted the Voting Rights Act in 1957 which was updated in 1965. This was followed by the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and the Civil Rights Act of 1960. These were the beginning steps toward a positive change in the civil rights movement in the US. The minorities’ conditions improved moderately, and most importantly, these changes stopped the encouragement against making discriminating rules in the US. 

By 1960, the movement started gaining more recognition and support. It was during the tenure of President John F. Kennedy who wholeheartedly supported and encouraged the legislative reforms in civil rights laws. Political pressures prevented him from presenting a bill for passing civil rights legislation in 1961, he took necessary steps to bring changes in minorities voting rights, employment rights, non-discrimination in public transportation, housing and executive action. He took various legislative initiatives to protect civil rights through federal laws. The year of 1963 witnessed the unfortunate demise of the righteous President of the United States when he was assassinated. Even so, his efforts did not go in vain and the bill became law in 1964 under the Presidentship of Sir Lyndon Johnson. 

The changing social perspective

American society also became an active participant in the civil rights movement during the 1960s. The social conditions became dynamic and started changing rapidly. Minority groups gained confidence, a sense of belonging, and a voice to address their concerns. They became more vocal about their needs, demands, and rights. Even the white Americans joined the movements. The African Americans became outspoken about the atrocities they have faced for years, the inequalities in public places and public transportation; the discrimination in employment and education; and the demeaning behavior in the army and the military. 

Protests during 1950-60

The minorities as well as the white Americans started participating in strikes and boycotts to address the plights and put an end to them. After protesting for months, many social changes started coming into force. The prohibition of Black Americans in public transportation was removed. The years between 1960 and 1964 saw an extreme increase in protests and boycotts. Finally, in 1964 the Civil Rights Act was passed and enforced. 

Students started protesting in schools in North Carolina and New Orleans. They sat against the segregation rules and regulations prevalent in the US. After months, the Supreme Court struck down one Louisiana Statute that promoted segregation. In a celebrated moment in January 1961, two African Americans got admission to the University of Georgia which earlier granted admissions only to white Americans. 

Several organisations were also formed to fight for people’s civil rights in the US. The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) became one such popular name for their non-violent strikes. The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) aided the jailed protestors and protested actively against racial inequality. Organisations like the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the Urban League became notable names in civil rights protests.

The Freedom Rides

One such form of protest that became noteworthy was the Freedom Rides protest in 1960. The Blacks and whites who protested together entered the southern cities using public transportation together to inspect the segregation prevalent in public transportation facilities in those cities. Many times, the protests also incited violence so much so that the US military had to intervene. 

The University of Alabama

US Governor George Wallace was a believer in segregation and did not support the civil rights movements. In one instance in 1963, he vowed and stood at the doors of the University of Alabama with the motive of not letting two black students get admission into the university. In an answer to this, President Kennedy federalised the Alabama National Guard in order to protect the black students’ rights and admission. President Kennedy called the civil rights movements legal, moral and constitutional. He addressed the nation and ensured them that civil rights legislation shall be enacted to guarantee them their basic civil rights. He promised them equality and the end to discrimination and segregation.

James Meredith’s admission denial

In another instance in 1962, an African American boy named James H. Meredith Jr. tried to get admission to the University of Mississippi. During this time, the opposers of the state incited violence and injured around 400 civilians alongside killing 2. While Martin Lurther King Jr. and President Kennedy made efforts for peaceful protests, the reality no longer adhered to this imagination. Fuelled by the murder of 2 protestors, the others started fighting with agitation. Four other African Americans were killed by the opposing whites of Birmingham. These four civilians were school-going girls who were bombed. The news quickly spread and escalated in the national media. The minorities thus began rioting as a result of all the killings and protests. 

Washington marches

In August 1963, in a memorable and historical march, more than 250,000 American civilians demanded freedom, equality, and equal job opportunities for all Americans alike. The march was led by famous names like Philip Randolph, John Lewis, etc. This was followed by the iconic speech of Martin Luther King Jr. from the Lincoln Memorial steps as – ‘I have a Dream.’ This march was a success, and President Kennedy invited the marchers and their leaders to the White House to discuss their opinions on the civil rights bill. 

The situation was clear that legislative interference could no longer wait. In May 1963, the senators and representatives agreed to pass the civil rights bill proposed by President Kennedy. The final bill reflected several ideas like ideas of citizens, ideas of the Congress, ideas of protesting groups and organisations, and the executive. After President Kennedy’s assassination, President Johnson assumed office. He sought in favour of the civil rights bill for a long time. When the bill passed in the House of Representatives and the Senate, he signed the bill into law within a few hours on a television broadcast from the White House. Finally, in 1964, the bill was passed and it became a law: the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

President Kennedy and the civil rights movement: the 1960 elections

Political pressures and factors affected the civil rights movements to the greatest extent during the 1950s and 1960s. It was right in 1961 when John F. Kennedy assumed the office of the US President. It was also when the protests started gaining momentum and added political pressures. Determined in his approach to granting civil rights to the people of America, President Kennedy relentlessly promoted the idea. While he was not a civil rights activist during the 1950s, he became more inclined toward the subject after assuming office. He even avoided talking on the subject during his elections campaigns all for the political fears of struggle and controversy. This was regarded as a means to gain political support in the elections. He remained silent on the issue during 1961-62 but it was in 1963 that he became vocal on the issue and became an ardent supporter of the movement. In June 1963, in a nationwide address on national television, President Kennedy addressed the American citizens and urged them to participate in the movement to guarantee racial equality in the United States. Thereafter, President Kennedy also introduced the civil rights bill with a proposal to enact civil rights legislation that would contain the following provisions:

  1. Equal voting rights,
  2. Desegregation in public transportations and accommodations,
  3. Equal treatment in public places,
  4. Desegregation in public and government-run schools,
  5. For the establishment of a Community Relations Service,
  6. To continue the preexisting Civil Rights Commission,
  7. Non-discrimination in every sector, especially in the federal programs,
  8. For the establishment of an Equal Employment Opportunities Commission.

The US Department of Justice was vested with the responsibility to envisage the ideas of President Kennedy into legislation. After close scrutiny and meticulous work by the draughtsmen, the bill was presented to Congress on June 19, 1963. The bill was presented in phases of 3 to different divisions of Congress. The bill was debated by the senators and representatives closely. Although President Kennedy could not live to see the day when the bill became law, the bill was finally approved and passed by Congress, senators, and the House of Representatives after several rounds of debate and recommendations. President Kennedy’s contributions and determination were huge pioneers for the success of this civil rights movement and are always remembered in US history. 

An insight into the Civil Rights Act of 1964

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 became a historic and celebrated piece of legislation in the United States that came after years of struggle. The new Act conferred upon the American citizens the following rights and made the following provisions:

  • Enforced the right to vote as a constitutional right,
  • Conferred wide jurisdiction to the US District Courts to adjudicate matters and provide relief against discrimination in public accommodations and public transportation,
  • Recognize the non-discriminatory rights in public transportation and public education as a constitutional right,
  • To entrust the Attorney-General to take steps and ensure the protection of these constitutional rights of the people,
  • To entrust the Commission on Civil Rights to ensure equality in federal programs,
  • To establish a Commission on Equal Employment Opportunities and other purposes.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids discrimination of all kinds on the basis of race, colour, caste, creed, class, religion, and nationality. It forbids discrimination in education, job opportunities, and employment. It ensures equality before the federal laws for all citizens alike. It ends segregation in public schools and public accommodations. It ensures the right to vote equally to all. It ensures equal protection of the law. It provides protection from arbitrary actions of the government and provides remedies to citizens if their civil rights get violated. To fulfill the given objectives, the Act has been divided into 11 titles to address different issues and protect against discrimination.

Order of Titles in the Civil Rights Act of 1964

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is divided into the following titles that deal with different issues specifically and provide remedies:

Title I: Voting rights

Title I describes the voting rights of the people of the United States. The Title states that no person shall be denied the right to vote on the basis of colour. There shall be no differences in standards, practices and procedures in the election voting in any state of the United States. The state laws and federal standards for elections shall remain the same for all people in all the states of the US. No person shall be denied the right to vote in federal elections because of any error in registration papers or application papers if this error is immaterial and unimportant to decide whether or not the person is capable of voting. A person shall be deemed fit to vote if he qualifies under the state laws to vote and the state laws shall be uniform throughout the US. 

Standard registration and application process must be maintained for all citizens alike with no changes in standards for black Americans and white Americans. However, the federal laws maintain a set standard to check qualifications for citizens who shall be deemed eligible to vote. This was termed the ‘literacy test.’ Title I further makes provisions for procedures to be followed in making the literacy test. It states that such tests must be made for each person applying for voting registration, individually. It shall be conducted in writing. The written answers of every individual must be sent to him in the form of a certified copy within 25 days and the original must be retained by the state for preservation as per Title III of the Act. The Attorney-General is vested with the power to make special provisions for blind and specially-abled people, in accordance with state and local laws. A literacy test is done in order to assess an individual’s reading, writing, understanding abilities and their ability to interpret matters of importance, like the ability to assess the right person to cast their vote to. 

Title II: Public accommodations

Title II provides protection against discrimination in places of public accommodations. It provides injunctive relief. The intent of Title II of the Act is to ensure equality and nondiscrimination in the enjoyment and availing of goods, services, facilities, and accommodations. It ensures that every citizen enjoys public facilities without any discrimination on grounds of race, colour, sex, religion, caste, origin, or creed. 

Further, the Act defines what a public accommodation is. As per Title II, public accommodations and facilities include anything that affects commerce in the state. Any public function or facility that previously had witnessed discrimination or segregation by state can also be categorised as a public accommodation to provide relief under this part of the Act. Title II further specifically categorises certain public accommodations which must follow nondiscrimination and desegregation, these are:

  1. Inns, hotels, motels, or any other type of establishment that provides lodging facilities other than a self-owned residence.
  2. Restaurants, cafeterias, lunchrooms, soda fountains, lunch counters, or any other establishment that engages in food supply to the public.
  3. Motion picture houses, halls, theatres, concert halls, sports arenas, stadiums, or other establishments for entertainment and exhibition. 

This list is inclusive and entails within it all other establishments of a similar nature, even when these establishments are within another establishment, that which does not fall within the given list. An act of segregation or discrimination in these places will be considered to be so if it is facilitated by state action if the discrimination or segregation is on the basis of caste, colour, creed, race, sex, origin, or religion. These rules should not apply to private establishments. 

In Heart of Atlanta Motel v. the US (1964), the Warren Court decided that the Commerce Clause of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 extends to hotels that host people from outside the state where it is located as well. The Court held that it is within the powers of the government empowered by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to restrict the motel from discriminating in accommodating people on the basis of colour, race, nationality, etc. 

In Hamm v. City of Rock Hill (1964), the case was filed by certain African Americans who were held liable to have violated the state trespass statute for sitting at a lunch counter of retail stores. The US Supreme Court held that these lunch counters would come within the ambit of Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and hence, constitute a public accommodation. The Court further held that this would be treated as a federal statutory right and thus, the provisions of the Civil Rights Act (1964) shall prevail over the state trespass statutes.  

Title III: Desegregation of public facilities

Title III speaks about the desegregation of public facilities. It gives powers to the Attorney-General to decide cases of discrimination and segregation in public facilities on the basis of race, colour, origin, nationality, etc. If a person’s right to equal protection before the law is hampered or threatened by any act of discrimination in public facilities, he can make a complaint to the Attorney-General and the Attorney-General shall provide him with the requisite legal remedy. Title III does not include the public schools, colleges and universities as they are included in Title IV of this Act. The Attorney-General shall also take all the necessary steps to help an aggrieved person under this title if the aggrieved person is unable or incapable of availing of legal proceedings. The State bears all the legal costs and Attorney’s fees in this case. The complaint made under Title III of the Act is to be in writing. 

In the case of United States v. Wyandotte County, Kansas (1972), the Wyandotte County Jail (defendants) were held liable by the United States District Court to be guilty of racial discrimination within the jail’s premises. The jail authorities were guilty of overlooking the racial discrimination and segregation habits followed on the jail premises. They were also guilty of not taking adequate actions to ensure the safety of federal and state prisoners on the jail’s premises. This was held to be violative of Title III of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

Title IV: Desegregation of public education

Title IV was designed with the intent to end segregation at public schools and universities that had been practised for decades in American society. Segregation was practised in public schools and colleges on the basis of race, colour, origin, nationality, etc. To fulfil this intent, the Commission was vested with a responsibility to make survey reports within two years from the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Commissioner had to conduct surveys on public schools and colleges and identify the schools and colleges that continued practising segregation on the abovementioned grounds and submit this report to the President and the US Congress. These surveys were conducted in all the public educational institutions in the United States, its territorial jurisdictions, and the District of Columbia. 

Title IV also vested a responsibility on the Commissioner to provide technical assistance to public schools and colleges in adopting, implementing and regulating desegregation rules and practices in their respective schools. Technical assistance is provided when a school authority makes a request to the Commissioner in writing. The Commissioner has the right to refer the matter to special agents from the Office of Education Department to provide necessary guidance and assistance to the school managerial boards in implementing segregation laws. 

Title IV enables the Commissioners to arrange training sessions in public schools and universities if he deems fit and necessary. The Commissioner can arrange periodic short sessions on a regular basis in higher educational institutions to train the administrative staff, non-administrative staff, and employees on implementing and practising desegregation in their schools. These sessions are arranged through grants or contracts, and the trainers are to be paid stipends and travel allowances as per the terms specified by the Commissioner. 

The Commissioner has the power to make grants to public school managerial boards on request in writing, for the following purposes:

  1. Making payments for the training sessions on implementing desegregation in their schools, and 
  2. Making payments to the expert agents from the Department of Education for their expert advice and guidance. 

The Commissioner makes grants after taking into consideration various factors like the financial condition of the institution, nature and degree of training sessions conducted, etc. 

The Attorney-General is vested with the power and responsibility to receive and address complaints in writing from a student, group of students, or their parents stating discrimination or denial of admission to any public school on the basis of racial discrimination. The Attorney-General has the right to inspect and check the merits of the case. If the public school is practicing desegregation and racial discrimination in the opinion of the Attorney-General, the Attorney-General is entitled to institute a civil suit against it in the appropriate District Court of the United States. Such a civil suit is instituted in the name of the United States as the applicant. Before instituting such a suit, the Attorney-General gives the school administration an opportunity to make amends. If they fail to comply, the suit is instituted. The Attorney-General also provides legal assistance or costs to maintain legal proceedings for a person who is unable to do so. 

Title V: Civil Rights Commission

Title V of the Act makes provisions for the establishment of a Civil Rights Commission in the United States. The Commission is vested with the duty to ensure nondiscrimination, desegregation, and racial equality in the United States. The Commission performs the following duties under Title V:

  1. Investigate matters relating to the right to vote of American citizens. It is the duty of the Commission to ensure that nobody is denied voting rights on the basis of their race, colour, origin, etc. If a complaint is made to the Commission, he shall investigate it and ensure justice.
  2. The Commission must ensure people’s legal protection under the Constitution and that nobody is discriminated against on the basis of race, colour, etc. It is the duty of the Commission to ensure the administration of justice.
  3. The Commission can seek interference of the federal laws and the Federal Government to ensure equal protection of law to every citizen irrespective of their race, colour, nationality, or religion. 
  4. The Commission acts as a national clearinghouse of information on cases dealing with granting equal protection of laws on the basis of race, religion, nationality, origin, colour, etc. 
  5. Investigate matters of alleged unlawful activities during the elections that denied the citizens their voting rights. 
  6. The Commission can make as many subcommittees and advisory committees, etc. as it deems fit to carry out the objective of the Civil Rights Act, 1964. 

Title VI: Nondiscrimination in Federally Assisted Programs

Title VI states that no person shall be denied federal financial assistance in participating or benefitting from the provisions of the federally assisted programs on the basis of their race, colour, or origin. The departments of the Federal Government involved in federal financial aid in form of grants, loans or other forms of aid must ensure nondiscrimination in their policies and programs. The rules and regulations made by the departments and organs of government involved in federally assisted programs must first be approved by the President of the United States. If the rules and regulations are found to not be complying with the Constitution and with the provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, they are liable to be struck down. The courts also have the power of judicial review to assess the nature of these departmental rules and ensure nondiscrimination. An aggrieved person can institute a lawsuit under Section 10 of the Administrative Procedures Act (1946) to obtain a judicial review of the regulations. Title VI essentially protects people from discrimination from the financial funds’ authorities and departments. 

In Lau v. Nichols (1974), the US Supreme Court ruled that a school in California that was receiving federal funds to provide English courses to Chinese students must perform this function properly. The San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) had approximately 2,900 Chinese enrolled students who needed supplementary English language education. The school made provisions for providing the course to only 1,000 of those students and the others were denied the facility. The Court held the San Francisco school to be violative of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Court reiterated that it was the duty of the federally funded school to provide the courses to all Chinese students alike under the provisions of Title VI.  

In Canon v. University of Chicago (1979), a female student was denied enrollment in the federally funded medical education program at the University of Chicago. The District Court dismissed her petition stating that no private remedy is available under Title IX of this Act. The Court of Appeals was also of the opinion that no private remedy is specifically available under the Act. The US Supreme Court held that the lawsuit of the petitioner is maintainable even in the absence of a private remedy expressly provided under Title IX of the Act. The Court stated that Title IX provides for nondiscrimination on the basis of gender. The Court, speaking on legislative history, stated that Title IX was drafted after Title VI with the intent that the two are interrelated and shall be enforced in a similar manner. Further, Title VI in fact provides a private remedy. Enforcement of a private remedy in the given case will only enhance the system of justice and further the intent of the legislation. It will provide protection against discriminatory practices. It is the duty of the Federal Government to ensure nondiscrimination on the basis of sex. If a federally funded medical program will deny enrollment on the basis of gender discrimination, it will defeat the intent of the legislation. The Court held that Title VI gives power to the federal authorities to stop the funding for the reason of discrimination in the funded programs and this, in fact, is a private remedy.

In Alexander v. Sandoval (2001) the US Supreme Court held that Title VI of the Act makes provisions for nondiscrimination in federally assisted programs. It prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, colour, religion, etc. It provides protection against discrimination from authorities and departments that are financially funded by the Federal Government. No evidence is needed to prove the impact of the discriminating act to prohibit it. Title VI prohibits intentional discrimination. 

In Gratz v. Bollinger (2003), the Rehnquist Court spoke about the Equal Protection Clause inserted via the 14th Constitutional Amendment. The Court stated that violation of the Equal Protection Clause is also a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The University of Michigan was in question in the instant case. The University’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions (OUA) had set criteria for evaluating students seeking admission to the University. One such criterion was on the basis of the race of the students. The OUA made a list of students who could be categorised as ‘underrepresented minorities.’ The students who qualified for this list were given additional consideration and 20 extra points in the evaluation procedures. Two students of Caucasian descent in the state of Michigan were denied admission. Hence, the lawsuit was filed complaining about the evaluation process being discriminative. The Court held the evaluation process to be discriminative. The Court held that it did not meet the proper scrutiny standards. 

Title VII: Equal Employment Opportunity

Title VII ensures equal employment opportunities to US citizens irrespective of their race, colour, origin, nationality, etc. It does so by making a list of actions that shall be considered unlawful employment practices at the employer’s end. They are:

  1. If the employer denies employment or rejects an application on the basis of their race, colour, origin, caste, sex, etc., and not on a merit basis, such rejection or denial is unlawful as per the provisions of Title VII of the Act. 
  2. If an employer discriminates in paying salary, compensation, or discriminates in employment terms and conditions, and privileges on the basis of their race, colour, origin, etc., such act shall be unlawful under Title VII of the Act. 
  3. If an employer limits opportunities for an employee or practices segregation on the basis of their colour, race, sex, origin, etc., it is unlawful under Title VII of this Act. 
  4. If an employee’s status in his workplace is determined by the race he belongs to or by other similar discriminative factors, it is unlawful under this title. 
  5. If an employment agency refuses to refer an employee on the basis of the discriminative grounds of colour, race, sex, etc., it shall be unlawful under the provisions of Title VII. 

If a labour organisation refuses membership or denies any of the abovementioned opportunities to an employee on the basis of their race, colour, origin, etc., it shall be unlawful under the provisions of Title VII. If an employer, labour organization, or agency makes an ad that grants employment or entry to an employee on grounds of qualifications that are based on their sex, colour, race, etc., it shall be unlawful. 

Title VII further makes provisions for the establishment of an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to monitor and ensure the implementation of the laws under Title VII. It shall be a competent authority for filing complaints and addressing issues related to discrimination in employment opportunities. 

In Internation Union, United Automotive Workers v. Johnson Controls (1991), the Supreme Court stated that discriminating against a woman in the workplace and employment opportunities for the reason of her being pregnant is unlawful under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. There is only one exception brought to this general rule of Title VII. Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (1978), an exception has been recognised that a pregnant woman can be denied employment opportunity only if she shows an inability to work as per the normally expected standards. In the instant case, Johnson Controls had a foetal-protection policy under which it denied employment to pregnant women or fertile women who are capable of getting pregnant in its factory that involved lead exposure. The policy was implemented to ensure the safety of pregnant or potentially pregnant women but a lawsuit was instituted against this policy to be discriminative on the basis of sex. The Court held that this policy was violative of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as it discriminated on the basis of sex and pregnancy. The Court stated that the danger from exposure does not validate the discrimination. The policy was held not to be gender neutral. 

In Griggs v. Duke Power Company (1971), the US Supreme Court held that the eligibility criteria for intelligence tests to get a job at a plant were irrelevant. The Court recognised these tests as arbitrary and unnecessary barriers to employment opportunities. Thus, the eligibility test of the plant was held to be violative of Title VII. 

In the City of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power v. Manhart (1978), the US Supreme Court held that the department’s policy mandated female employees to make more contributions to the department’s employee pension fund than male employees stating that women live longer than men. This policy was held to be discriminatory and violative of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

In Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson (1986), the US Supreme Court held that sexual harassment of an employee at work would also constitute discrimination on the basis of sex under Title VII of this Act. The form of sexual abuse in the instant case involved creating a hostile environment for the employee for not engaging in sexual favors. The Court held that sexual harassment in the form of creating a hostile environment is a violation of Title VII. It can very well be termed as a form of discrimination on the basis of sex. The Equal Employment Opportunity title does not only imply economic discrimination. It also takes into account non-economic discrimination.

In Ricci v. DeStefano (2009) the US Supreme Court held that the act of the fire department at New Haven that granted promotions only to white firefighters was violative of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 1964. The department was clearly involved in racial discrimination and promoted only white men stating that they were better at work. This was done in the form of a promotional examination conducted by the department where 77 employees took part. Everyone except the 19 Africans got promoted. 

Title VIII: Registration and voting statistics

Under Title VIII, on the advice and intimation of the Commission on Civil Rights, the Secretary of Commerce is vested with the duty to conduct surveys and make a report on the intimated geographical areas of the voting registration and a statistical report on voting. This survey shall make a count on the number of people voting in a particular geographical area in order to make an observation on the number of people voting who belong to different races, colours, classes, ethnic groups, national origins, etc. The survey shall enable an understanding of the pattern of registration of voting applications and the extent of nondiscrimination followed. The survey would make a statistical study on racially discriminated people and their developments in exercising their right to vote. The survey would be conducted without harming the confidentiality of elections. No person shall be forced to reveal their political choices, race, colour, etc., without their consent.

Title IX: Intervention and procedure after removal of cases

If a case is pending in any court of law in the United States, and the nature of the case is that of civil rights, the Attorney-General has the power to intervene. The nature of the case is that it deals with the provisions of equal protection before the law and it is being denied to a party of the case by another. Such denial is on the basis of sex, race, colour, origin, etc. In this situation, if the case is pending in any US Court, the Attorney-General is vested with the right to intervene. Thus, equal protection of the law is upheld through Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as well as through the 14th Constitutional Amendment Act. Title IX upholds it by vesting the powers on the Attorney-General to open pending cases in the name of the state. The Attorney-General intervenes in the name of the state when he is satisfied that the case is of public importance.

Title X: Community relations service

Title X makes provisions for a Community relations service under the US Department of Commerce. The service is headed by a director who is appointed by the US President. This was established with the advice of the Senate for a term of 4 years. The Director looks into the functioning of the service and also appoints other members. He sets rules and regulations for the working of the service. 

In Goldsby v. Carnes (1973), the Community relations service helped the county jail in Missouri in establishing and making provisions for necessary living conditions for the prisoners. This helped in determining the rights and privileges of the prisoners,and the responsibilities of the jail authorities to provide them with proper living conditions. 

In Hernandez v. Erlenbusch (1973) the Community relations service provided assistance in the judgement where a tavern bar in Forest Grove was found guilty of violating the Civil Rights Act (1964). The tavern bar’s employees only spoke Spanish, and this was held to be a form of racial discrimination towards others who did not speak and understand Spanish. 

Title XI: Miscellaneous 

Title XI talks about certain miscellaneous provisions within the ambit of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title XI says:

  1. In criminal contempt cases, if the accused wishes, he can demand to be tried by a jury. This is applicable to cases of criminal contempt arising out of Title II, III, IV, V, VI, or VII of the Act. The maximum limit of fines that could be imposed in these cases is $1,000 and imprisonment of up to 6 months. Penalty under this provision shall not extend to cases of criminal contempt occurring in the court unless such act is done intentionally. 
  2. The courts shall not exercise double jeopardy. The principle of double jeopardy means that a person cannot be punished twice for the same crime under the laws of the United States.
  3.  The Civil Rights Act of 1964 would not deny or impair the rights of the Attorney-General, the United States, or any agency or officer of state to interfere in any ongoing or pending proceedings.
  4. If any part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is invalidated on any day in the future, such invalidation would not make the whole legislation invalid. It shall continue to remain valid as far as it is consistent with the state laws and the US Constitution. 

Impact of LGBTQ+ rights in the Civil Rights Act of 1964

With time, the rights of people belonging to the LGBTQ+ community started gaining societal importance. It is no hidden fact that these people have been oppressed and humiliated for decades. They have been called homophobic names, harassed, and made fun of, and their sexual identity has been called a disease. The US Courts did a commendable job in several judicial pronouncements as they recognised the rights of the LGBTQ+ community affirmatively and included it within the ambit of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 at par with other civil rights. 

Even though the issue has gained momentum in recent years, the US Supreme Court gave a landmark judgement in 1998, recognising the LGBTQ+ community’s rights. In Joseph Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services (1998), the petitioner was aggrieved by the homophobic behavior and abuses of his co-workers. He was made fun of and called names by the department members. He was repeatedly threatened with rape threats. He had to resign from his job due to these threats and abuses, with a fear that he would be raped or forced to have sexual intercourse. This case came after the Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson’s judgement (cited above) that established that discrimination from equal employment opportunities which is punishable under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 1964 also included discrimination on the basis of sex. Following this judgement, the Supreme Court in the instant case ruled that the rule of nondiscrimination on the basis of sex applied to men and women alike. The Court stated that Title VII of this Act also includes same-sex sexual harassment within the ambit of discrimination on the basis of sex. To establish this act of sexual harassment as discrimination on the basis of sex, the Court relied on the judgement of Harris v. Forklift Systems, Inc. (1993), where it was held that discriminative intimations, ridicule, and insults create an employment environment for the employee which is unsuitable for working. This could be categorised as a ‘hostile working environment.’ Thus, this violates Title VII of the Act for discriminating on the basis of sex. 

In Bostock v. Clayton, County, Georgia (2020), the respondents fired an old employee in the organisation for belonging to the LGBTQ+ community. Bostock was fired stating that he was ‘unbecoming’ a county employee when he came out in public as a trans person. The US Supreme Court held that this act was violative of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as it discriminated on the basis of sex and denied employment to a long-term employee. Such an act was held unlawful under Title VII. 

A similar judgement was pronounced in the case of Altitude Express, Inc. v. Zarda (2020), where an employee was fired merely on the ground that he was a transgender. The Roberts Court while ruling in favour of the aggrieved stated that such an action constituted discrimination on the basis of sex and denied equal employment opportunities. Thus, it violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (1964). Also, in R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (2020), an employee filed a complaint with the EEOC as he was fired from Harris Funeral Homes as soon as he revealed that he belonged to the LGBTQ+ community. The Commission held it to be violative of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (1964).

Other civil rights legislation in the U.S.

Apart from the Civil Rights Act of 1964, civil rights in the US are guaranteed through some other legislation as well. Those are:

Voting Rights Act of 1965

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 came as a result of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. While the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provided and promoted equal voting and registration rights and procedures for all Americans alike, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 banned literacy tests on voters. It made provisions for federal monitoring and scrutiny in areas where white Americans constituted less than half the population. This was provisioned in order to ensure that Black Americans are treated equally in their applications and voter registrations. It also empowered the attorney-general to monitor the local elections and poll taxes. 

Fair Housing Act of 1968

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 was signed and enacted under the Presidentship of President Lyndon Johnson. It was enacted to ensure nondiscrimination on the basis of sex, colour, race, origin, religion, etc., in buying, renting, brokering, or selling houses.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 was enacted to forbid discrimination against people with disabilities in the US. It makes provisions for forbidding such discriminations in public places, public accommodations and transportations, public schools and education, job opportunities, etc. It advocates for equal opportunities and equal treatment for people with disabilities in all sectors of the US. 

The Employment and Non-Discrimination Act of 2013

The Employment and Nondiscrimination Act of 2013 is a US legislation designed to ensure equality in employment opportunities and promote non-discrimination. It ensures that nobody is discriminated against in employment opportunities on the basis of their sex, race, colour, sexual orientation or gender identity. The Act penalizes any act of discrimination and deems it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee on the basis of their sexual orientation. This Act also protects the rights of the LGBTQ+ community and promotes equality and equal opportunities for them.

Where to file a complaint?

Apart from adjudication in a court of law, a complaint for violation of civil rights guaranteed under the civil rights legislation can be filed with the following authorities and departments of the US:

  1. A complaint about discrimination in educational institutions can be filed at the Office of Civil Rights (OCR).
  2. A complaint against discrimination in employment opportunities can be filed with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC).
  3. A complaint against discrimination in availing healthcare facilities can be filed with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
  4. A criminal complaint against crimes like human trafficking or other hate crimes is filed at the US Department of Justice (Civil Rights Division). 


The Civil Rights Act of 1964 came after a long struggle by theorists, lawmakers, politicians, activists, and citizens alike. It is one of the most reformative legislation in the history of civil rights laws in the US and has brought many positive changes since its implementation. It continues to end long years of struggle and plight for people around America. Ancient America has been infamous for its practice of racial discrimination and segregation. Racial discrimination still prevails in bits and tiny specs here and there in the States. Thus, the legislation continues to serve its purpose and ensure justice for people. It promotes nondiscrimination and equality. It guarantees equal protection under the law to all American citizens.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the major difference brought to the preexisting provision Civil Rights Act of 1964 by the Voting Rights Act of 1965?

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not ban the literacy tests conducted for the purpose of assessing an individual. It was done as a qualifying test passing which made people eligible to vote. The 1965 Voting Rights Act banned this literacy test in the United States. 

What civil rights are addressed in the Civil Rights Act of 1964?

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 addresses civil rights such as the right to vote, the right to education, the right to equal employment opportunities, equal protection before law, etc. 

Name a few civil rights issues that still persist in society.

Inequality, poverty, lack of opportunities, and looking down on people belonging to a certain class of society are some issues that still persist in society in the 21st century. 


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