UC Law Journal


The United States Supreme Court's landmark decision in Runyon v. McCrary interpreted section one of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 to forbid discrimination on the basis of race in the private sector and was widely viewed by many lawyers, legal historians, and labor and civic organizations as a significant step towards the elimination of racial discrimination in our country. Since 1976 when Runyon was decided, federal courts have fashioned an extensive body of law supporting the broad protections of the Act. It came as a distinct jolt, therefore, when the Court expressed its desire last Term, in Patterson v. McLean Credit Union, to reconsider whether the Civil Rights Act of 1866 applied to private employers. Examining the historical foundations of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, this Lecture reviews the positions of the parties in Patterson, as well as the positions taken by the multitude of individuals and organizations who submitted briefs to the Court. The Lecture focuses particularly on the remarkable decision of the Supreme Court to consider overturning established precedent in civil rights law. The Lecture suggests that the pattern of racism that prompted the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 extends to the present day and therefore the need for uncompromised civil rights legislation is no less urgent today than it was over 100 years ago.

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