More Thoughts on the Civil Rights Act of 1964

As we approach the end of July, this writer has further thoughts on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was passed 50 years ago this month.

Consider two scenarios.

In 1950, a woman from Ohio travels to North Carolina to attend a wedding. Accompanying her is her 12-year-old son. When she arrives, she checks into a local hotel. She discovers that she and her son cannot stay in the hotel because of segregation. The woman, had she traveled alone, could have stayed at the hotel because she happened to be born white. Her son could not stay at the hotel because he was born black. The policy of segregation was widespread and not unique to this particular hotel.

In 1952, eight-graders from Indianapolis take a bus trip to Memphis to participate in a band competition. Along the way, they stop in Nashville to go to an amusement park. The amusement park is willing to admit half of the children and refuse admission to the other half. The half the park accepts are all white and the half it does not accept are all black.

In both scenarios, the public accommodations (the hotel and the amusement park) have made race-based decisions about whom to accept. Complicating matters is that you have an interracial situation where the mother, in the first scenario, is welcome to check in but her son is not and white eight-graders, in the second scenario, are welcome but their black classmates are not.

Such policies have created two classes of American citizenship.

Can the federal government act to remedy these and related situations? This writer believes the answer is yes.

The federal government has limited powers and cannot legitimately pass national legislation unless there is a specific grant of authority by the Constitution.

When the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, the ability to prevent race discrimination in public accommodations was found in the Interstate Commerce Clause. This was a mistake. The Commerce Clause was not designed to combat race discrimination and to use it for this purpose would be to imprudently stretch its meaning. The Fourteenth Amendment was designed to combat race discrimination.

The first sentence of the Fourteenth Amendment is:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.

The Reluctant Conservative believes that federal government has the authority decide what it means to be an American citizen. This authority extends to deciding that businesses such as hotels and amusement parks cannot create two classes of American citizenship based on race.

 

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