T Nation

The Federal Goverment and Individual Civil Rights?


I would like to pose this question to my T-Nation Friends...

(Let's keep the right to bear arms out of this thread, because 1) its been discussed "ad nauseaum" and 2) it will distract from my central question, which is this:

"What is the role, if any, of the Federal Government in enforcing individual Civil Rights?"

Did it overstep it's bounds in the past? (e.g. Ike sending in Paratroopers to enforce Federal Law).

Is this a "local" issue?

Do you think that the Constitution would have eventually "taken care of" the basic rights that were being denied to women and minorities?

The floor is now open!



Just to add:

Someone asked why there were not more minorities seen at the recent "Tea Party" rallies and Town Hall Meetings...

One (among many) "disconnects" between White and Black Americans is in fact their view of how the Federal Government has impacted their lives (especially historically).

As an example (and this is for illustration purposes ONLY)...I will assure you that Black Americans viewed what Ike did in Little Rock MUCH differently than The States Rights Democratic Party ("Dixicrats") did.



Civil rights do not exist. Natural rights do. The government's only legitimate function is to protect natural rights.

It has failed miserably because is has been distracted by the red herring, civil rights.

We cannot make people equal with legislation which is what civil rights attempt to do. In the end this has caused more problems than it has helped to cure -- specifically, by taking away the natural rights of individuals with the hope of creating equality.

We need equality before the law with regard to natural rights not equal opportunity for all.


When civil rights are denied to individuals at state and local levels, the federal government absolutely has a role in enforcing them.

The hard part is and always has been defining what the "civil rights" are, but once defined, if a state is denying them to an individual, the federal government should/can enforce.


I will start this out with what I am sure is a very simplistic view point.
"What is the role, if any, of the Federal Government in enforcing individual Civil Rights?"
I still look at the constitution as the Founding Fathers attempt to protect individuals FROM the government, from unwarranted government action and interference.
Enforcement is largely the responsibility of the states.

...and now I am called away for a meeting. I will pick up later.

Civil and political rights are a class of rights and freedoms that protect individuals from unwarranted government action and ensure one's ability to participate in the civil and political life of the state without discrimination or repression.



How do you define a "natural" right?

How do you define a "civil" right?

How to the two differ?




What do you do when municipalities and states are denying those rights?

In essense, what historically was happening in the U.S. was that certain groups of people did require protection from the "government" (albiet local and state)...and the Federal Government intervened.

Was that constitutionally "wrong"?



By the ways, guys...

This is not a "test"!

It's for discsussion and better understanding of the role of the Federal Government as many of you see it.



And this is where it all starts to go horribly wrong. Once more, justice, equality, freedom etc. are all human social inventions to regulate human societies. Nature has no analogs. What, are the gazelles going to file a class action suite against the lions for systematic oppression? Yeah, right.

Calls for "natural rights" are a problem because they don't exist, hence anyone can claim their pet idea is a natural right. Think about it. One example is a women's rights. This is the ethical position that ideas are to be judged on their merits, not on the speaker coupled with the ethical position that all humans are worthwhile and should be treated as valuable. Claims about natural rights of women usually end up in bizarre conspiracy theories about idyllic pre-historic matriarchies and patriarchal plots. No. We are a sexually dimorphic species (females smaller than males) just like every other primate and the universal splits in women doing the child-rearing found in traditional societies reflect this. That we have machines and a service sector economy -- which is about as artificial a situation as possible -- lets Western societies realize their ethical position on equality.

Now here I go being a liberal, viz., that there must be limited government, equality before the law and a well-defined set of rights to ensure that the government keeps its place. This admits that one cannot get full justice from the law (you are tried for break laws, not for being a bad person in the US, e.g.), but that the judicial system will be used with restraint and circumspection, so that its behavior is predictable and we can plan our lives around it. No secret police kicking in the door at 2 am, for instance, nor appropriation of property without lengthy deliberation.

Civil rights was the mass movement to try and really apply the nascent social ideals of equality to everyone. In that sense, it was timely. However, the problem as I see it was that the way that the Civil Rights movements tended to promote their agendas was by the negative politics of delegitimization of the legal and political system. It was not that the system was able to change, albeit slowly, and would be able to accommodate this (what other polity can claim this?), but that the whole system was just rotten and had to go. After all, once the government agreed to redress past wrongs, the fact it couldn't do it overnight was just proof of hypocrisy, wasn't it? This led to bureaucratized attempts to show progress, such as quotas. Now the problem is that this is the public metric for being "good", i.e., in order to function, any state agency (and now private organization) has to jump up and support systems that are considered at best highly flawed. Any attempt to back off from them is going to give fuel to your opponents to call you a sexist, racist, etc.

This delegitimization worked very well for a long time (remember the 60's? then you weren't there ;D) , but was getting in the way. The Democrats used it again at a fever pitch with Bush (there were valid criticism of him and some quite damning, but they never saw the light of day in the press) and it worked well. Then there was a problem: if you wish to govern, how do you recover after trashing the system you want to run? This is why Obama came in the way he did, I think. The last election, from my perspective, was mostly about trying to be legitimate again. The Republicans will have a hard time delegitimizing him, so I suspect they will go for someone pretty easy like Pelosi and other Dems. They will probably front a minority candidate in the next election. An ugly, despicable business to be happening in a Republic...

And as always, I might just be full of shit...

-- jj

(Edit: grammar!)


You are born owning your life; the rights to use your life in pursuit of your own best interests is a natural right. They cannot be given to us but rather they inherently belong to us and therefore they cannot be denied nor infringed upon.

Civil rights are an attempt by authority to grant positive rights -- e.g. equal access laws. We cannot have rights to equal access and at the same time have natural rights because it is contradictory. For example, to grant equal access to the use of a business owners property is to deny the property owner his natural rights to use his property how he wishes.

The difference is that natural right are negative and civil rights are positive. Negative rights cannot be taken away because we own the use of them inherently in owning our life. Positive rights have to be granted and they can only be granted by infringing upon natural rights.


I think it is very dangerous when bigger political entity becomes the enforcer of rights.

That might have worked in the US to some degree but now it also means that the federal government can force its will on anybody in the name of enforcing those rights.

Had they simply been contend to keep it on state level people would have started to vote with their feet.

Now that these issues are dealt with on a federal level, where can you run to?


Mobility is freedom. The oppressors know this, and therefore seek to broaden their reach in an effort to counter mobility.


If my local or state government has violated my rights and freedoms, I expect the federal government to intervene on my behalf.


And guess what, Uncle G...IT IS CONSTITUTIONAL for the Federal Government to intervene.

Let me throw this out to my "Nation" friends.

Too often, when people talk about the Constitution, there is a LOT of emphasis on the original declarations and the Bill of Rights (the first Ten Amendments) and limiting the power of the Federal Government AGAINST the citizenry. Great stuff.

However, too often the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments...the "Reconstruction Amendments"...essentially say that the Constitution also protects the rights of its citizens from abridgement by state (and by extension local) leaders and governments. (Especially the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th).

In other words; while the Constituiton DOES define the limits of government against its citizenry...it also says that said citizenry cannot then turn around and deny the protections of the Constitution from each other (by things like slavery, "Black Codes", "Jim Crow" Laws, etc.).

This is often overlooked.

I want to add something interesting about Eisenhower and his actions.

While the arguments of "Brown vs. The Board of Education of Topeka" were argued on Constitutional grounds; IKE also felt that Segregation and Discrimination against a major segment of our populace was a NATIONAL SECURITY issue. In other worlds, we were "morally weakened" on the World Stage ,in our arguments against oppressive regimes, by the way we treated our own citizenry.

The floor remains open.



Courts, defense, a few other things. Basically, the general welfare. No, I don't mean welfare checks.


No. But, I do wonder about the effectiveness of forcing it. I sometimes wonder if making sure black schools existed with equivalent resources might have been better. With integration coming later as local attitudes changed.

I think white folks would've become increasingly bothered by the idea that while man is endowed with inalienable rights, it wasn't exactly shaking out like that for everyone in the real world.


What do you mean by the Constitution eventually "taking care of" individuals rights for minorities and women? Without amendment? If so, I think the answer is no.


Not my feeling, JS...

As you know, there are more than just a few people who feel that a) "Free Markets" and b) "The" Constitution, will, with time, cause things to "work out" given time. And the "Gov'ment" (Federal) needs to stay out.

It's never been explained exactly how; but that's the sentiment.



Is there a big re-segregation movement, or something?


You have two options when it comes to states not following the constitution. Move or bear arms and fix your government by force. Of course this takes a larger than one man army to accomplish, which is the reason for the second amendment (in my thinking and in reading).

The Federal Government should not have intervened. The people are supposed to control their state governments, not the other way around. I do not think any politician should have to be 'great' no person should need to have to go above and beyond what is necessary for the job when it comes to the government office. All you have to do is do as your people would like, how simple is that. Due your bid, do what the people ask, get out. A simple farmer could do the job, yet we require intellectuals.

  • Brother


The founding fathers understood that people were not equal. That is why land owners were the ones that voted. How it would take care of itself, by the people seeing that things are not comfortable with slavery/suffrage/etc. the government would then fix it.

  • Brother