Civil Rights

Civil Rights


After America’s Civil War, the country attempted to integrate millions of former slaves into the fabric of a free society. This integration was met with organized violence and intimidation in almost every State of the Union. Unfortunately, despite the tragedy of the Civil War the cultural and procedural institutions of oppression remained deeply entrenched in our Republic. In 1871 Congress realized that local governments could not always be trusted to protect and uphold the Federal and State Constitutions. In one of the last great pieces of legislation from the Reconstruction Era, Congress passed what would be known as the Third Enforcement Act or Klu Klux Klan Act. The Act was meant to dismantle the violent political machines of the KKK and protect minority populations from violence. Included in that legislation was 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

Simple and beautiful, 42 U.S.C. § 1983 held the framework that would empower an individual to sue a government entity for violating that person’s Constitutional Rights. Sadly, as soon as the Klan went underground 42 U.S.C. § 1983 also disappeared from public knowledge. 42 U.S.C. § 1983 was downplayed by the courts and tied up in Jim Crow politics. It wasn’t until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s that new life would be given to the Statute.

During the Civil Rights Era of the 1960’s it became clear that the Justice Department couldn’t enforce or protect the population from segregation and institutionalized hatred by itself. The United States Supreme Court recognized that citizens should be able to protect themselves from Constitutional violations. All they needed was the proper legal mechanism. Case by case, the courts built precedent that breathed new life into  42 U.S.C. § 1983.

42 U.S.C. § 1983 states:

Every person who under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, Suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress, except that in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer’s judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable. For the purposes of this section, any Act of Congress applicable exclusively to the District of Columbia shall be considered to be a statute of the District of Columbia.


42 U.S.C. § 1983 usually covers claims arising out of violations of First, Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Federal Constitution violations as well as State Constitution violations. The following are examples of common 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims:

  • Arrested without probable cause,
  • Violation of procedural due process
  • Unlawfully or Unreasonable abused by law enforcement,
  • Cruel and unusual punishment
  • Illegally searched and seized without probable cause,
  • Falsely imprisoned,
  • Different treatment under the law without sufficient legal justification
  • Discriminated against because of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, or speech.

42 U.S.C. § 1983 litigation can be complex and extremely specialized. If you have questions about a potential Civil Rights claim please call Andres & Brownlee, LLC we handle cases at both the State and Federal level.