Throughout U.S. history, various groups, because of some characteristic beyond their control, have been denied their civil rights and have fought for equal treatment under the law. All three branches of the government have played an important role in providing remedies for the denial of equal rights.
Groups that are discriminated against may seek procedural remedies, such as changing the law to guarantee equality of opportunity, or substantive remedies, such as the institution of affirmative action programs, to guarantee equality of outcome.
African Americans have experienced both de jure discrimination, created by laws that treat people differently, and de facto discrimination, which occurs when societal tradition and habit lead to social segregation. African Americans led the first civil rights movement in the United States. By forming interest groups such as the NAACP and developing strategies such as nonviolent resistance, African Americans eventually defeated de jure discrimination. De facto discrimination persists in America, signified by the education and wage gap between African Americans and whites. Programs like affirmative action, which could remedy such discrimination, remain controversial. Although African Americans have made great strides in the past fifty years, much inequality remains.
Native Americans, Hispanics, and Asian Americans have also fought to gain economic and social equality. Congressional control over their lands has led Native Americans to assert economic power through the development of casinos. Using boycotts and voter education drives, Hispanics have worked to stem the success of English-only movements and anti-immigration efforts. Despite their smaller numbers, Asian Americans also aim for equal political clout, but it is through a cultural emphasis on scholarly achievement that they have gained considerable economic power.
Women’s rights movements represented challenges to power, to a traditional way of life, and to economic profit. Early activists found success through state politics because they were restricted from using the courts and Congress; efforts now focus on the courts to give women greater protection of the law.
Gays, youth, the elderly, and the disabled enjoy the most fundamental civil rights, but they still face de jure and de facto discrimination. While laws concerning gays, lesbians, and transgendered individuals are usually motivated by moral beliefs, , social order and cost-efficiency concerns mark the restrictions against youth, the elderly, and disabled Americans.
The progression of civil rights in the United States has largely been propelled by group action, an example of the pluralist model of democracy. Through collective action, those seeking change