Sunday, April 20, 2014

On Civil Rights and Jim Crow Laws

Written on February 11th, 2012
Edited in April 2014

   The purpose of the Civil Rights Act was to provide civil rights to blacks. Civil, as in rights relating to their participation in government (like voting rights), not their right to tell employees and management of private establishments how to conduct their business.

   That is, until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 came along. This act had ten provisions in it. Nine of them dealt with real civil rights having to do with blacks' participation in government. The other provision required states to prohibit businesses which serve the public from discriminating against patrons on the basis of race.

   This provision did not define the difference between "public" and "private", and subsequent court rulings on the law simply assumed that all businesses serve the public (which I associate with government, i.e., "the public sector", not private businesses), and declared federal jurisdiction on the grounds that any business can be construed to have some "substantial effect" on interstate commerce, which the federal government has (way too broadly) asserted itself to have the ability to regulate.

   Not all southern businessmen segregated customers by race or refused to hire based on race because they were racists. But all of them did so because it was the law; specifically, the Jim Crow law. A law, created by governments, not by the private sector. The reason Jim Crow laws were maintained is because racists intimidated city council members into codifying them.

   Providing blacks with civil rights to vote and participate in government like all other citizens would have permitted them to vote that the governments of their states to prohibit discrimination in private businesses, and the federal government wouldn't have had to breach the Constitution the way it did in the Heart of Atlanta v. U.S. ruling which resulted from the 1964 CRA.

   There is no civil right that allows someone to compel a business to associate with him. The liberty which the Declaration of Independence guarantees to us means the freedom of association; that is, the freedom to associate, and the freedom not to associate. If you can compel someone to associate with you in a way that violates the Constitution, you are making someone serve you against their will, i.e., involuntarily. It's involuntary servitude, which is prohibited by the 13th Amendment, which the law regards as on-par with slavery. Indeed, this is the defense which the plaintiff used in the case of Heart of Atlanta v. U.S., which I referenced above.

   The same law that prohibits businesses from discriminating against blacks and segregate patrons in order to protect whites can also be used to prevent businesses from segregating in order to protect black patrons from white patrons. If government has eradicated all private-sector discrimination - as one of my past UW professors has claimed - how can businesses still legally hire bouncers and security guards to choose which potential patrons enter and which must leave?

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