Legislating Freedom

Tangents USA

John Oliver lit up the Internet this weekend with a powerful segment arguing that it is the mandate of the federal government, not the states, to enforce civil rights. A friend of mine slightly dissented, wondering if people do not self-correct their morals over time, thus rendering the need for government action unnecessary.

I disagree: Legislation and judicial rulings in favor of civil rights have been necessary historically because significant portions of the population have always opposed the “next wave” of constitutional extensions.

For instance:

  • James Madison pushed for Congress to stay out of religion, when a number of politicians (e.g., Patrick Henry) wanted there to be a national Christian church. See David Sehat’s great legal history, The Myth of American Religious Freedom, for more information on this topic.
  • In 1867-68, the Congressional Radical Republicans passed the 14th and 15th Amendments and the Reconstruction Acts to ensure black political rights, because of…

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