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State Action

The Supreme Court has long held that the Constitution applies only to the actions of government, not to the actions of private individuals or entities. This restriction traditionally enabled private individuals to circumvent the rights provided in the Constitution. The first casualty was the civil rights statutes passed during Reconstruction after the Civil War. Subsequent cases involved such efforts as those by private individuals to prevent blacks from voting. Since these actions were not officially considered “state actions,” the Court held that the Constitution did not apply.

The Court in more modern times has taken a more liberal view of which actions constitute state actions. In some circumstances, a state’s approval of private action may constitute state action. Even if an action is not considered a state action, however, modern civil rights legislation may provide protection against private actions that is equivalent to constitutional protection.

Inside State Action