Citizens of the United States are protected against racial discrimination by many laws, including Constitutional protections, civil rights statutes, and civil rights regulations. The Fourteenth Amendment, which provides all citizens with equal protection of the laws, was ratified in 1868; however, the most significant changes in the law with respect to racial discrimination have occurred in the last fifty years. In this time, a number of landmark events have occurred and a number of landmark laws have been passed that prevent discrimination on the basis of race in many circumstances.
- In 1954, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibited segregation in public schools on the basis of race. The Court then required public school districts to begin the process of integration “with all deliberate speed.”
- The Civil Rights Act of 1964 brought about the most significant changes in civil rights protection in the history of the country. It prohibited racial and other discrimination in employment, education, and use of public accommodations and facilities.
- The Voting Rights Act of 1965 prevented racial and other forms of discrimination with respect to access to the ballots.
- The Fair Housing Act, part of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, prohibited discrimination in the sale and renting of housing. It also extended these prohibitions to lending and other financial institutions.
- The Civil Rights Act of 1991 was designed to strengthen and improve previous civil rights legislation.
Civil rights laws do not render every form of racial discrimination unlawful. For example, laws do not proscribe general notions of racial prejudice by private individuals in most circumstances. However, when racial prejudices or preferences interfere with the rights of others, then the law is more likely to provide protection. This distinction applies to government entities or business entities engaged in interstate commerce.