What does a civil rights lawyer do?
Civil rights lawyers help protect the rights of U.S. citizens that many of us take for granted, such as the right to speak out on matters of public concern under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. All citizens enjoy equal protection of our laws and the privilege to exercise their rights as free people. That means, for example, that it is illegal for the police to racially profile a person based on assumptions that the person who is part of that protected group tends to engage in certain behaviors. People are entitled in the United States to be treated with dignity and respect. That is what makes the United States “melting pot” work.
The U.S. Supreme Court interprets federal civil rights statutes, such as the Age Discrimination in Employment Act or Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, for example. The Court also interprets issues involving the U.S. Constitution. From there, the lower-level appellate courts and district courts apply the civil rights laws, judicial interpretations of those laws, and, for their part, they also interpret those laws as new facts are presented to them.
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, for example, protects people in their right “to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” Within that quoted language, there are several terms that require the courts to interpret what the Framers of the Constitution meant. What makes a search and seizure “unreasonable”? What does it mean to be secure in your person? Can a police officer search a citizen’s car if there is no probable cause or observation of anything incriminating in plain view through the car windows? As you can see, there are many questions that arise from the facts of each situation.
That is where a civil rights lawyer comes in. Civil rights lawyers typically represent people in these matters, not companies. In addition to seeking compensation and other non-monetary relief to protect persons and their civil rights, civil rights lawyers also litigate issues before the courts to help the law evolve in a positive and responsible manner to ensure that the rights of all U.S. citizens are protected. Civil rights lawyers help those with no voice speak up, those with little power be powerful, and those with few “connections” have a fair shot at pursuing the American Dream. Without the work of civil rights lawyers, the often-quoted language in the U.S. Declaration of Independence “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” would have no meaning or value.
The examples above illustrate that the Right Choice is to work with a lawyer knowledgeable on constitutional and civil rights laws who can assess the detailed facts of your situation in the context of those laws. In that way, you may determine whether your rights have been violated and what your options are with respect to an appropriate remedy.