Four Key Civil Rights Cases

In times past, legal action was necessary to bring about more specific laws that extended those rights to more people. By understanding the significance of a few of those events, it is easier to grasp why continuing to protect the rights of all people ultimately benefits everyone.

Minor versus Happersett

In 1875, the ruling in this case found that the Constitution did not provide grounds for extending the right to vote to women. The issue revolved around the attempt of a woman to register to vote in the state of Missouri. While the Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling, the case helped to increase interest in the Women’s Suffrage movement, and ultimately the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920.

Plessy versus Ferguson

This 1896 case established the precedent that was eventually known as separate but equal facilities. The case involved a suit against the state of Louisiana and the practice of providing separate facilities for the use of African Americans, as opposed to all citizens using the same facilities. The scope of the law extended to everything from restaurants to hospitals. The Supreme Court upheld the state’s law, although Justice John Marshall Harlan dissented, claiming that separate facilities was not in the best interests of anyone.

Brown Versus the Board of Education

By 1954, the concept of separate but equal facilities was being challenged on several fronts. This particular case ruled that maintaining separate educational facilities for different races created inequities in the quality of educational opportunities. A separate ruling in 1955 related to this same case called for the abolition of all segregated educational facilities in the United States.

Olmstead versus L.C.

In 1999, the Supreme Court ruled that individuals with mental health issues have the right to live in communities rather than being confined to institutions. The Court held that as long as health care professionals had determined that living in the wider community was appropriate, that there was a reasonable option for securing accommodation, and that the patient involved was open to the idea, release from an institution was acceptable.

Today, there are still cases pending that have to do with rights based on issues of gender, race, orientation and even religion. With each ruling, there is the hope of more fully protecting the rights of all citizens and creating a world where everyone truly does enjoy full civil rights.