The phrase “civil rights” commonly appears in much public discussion. But what are “civil rights”? Where did they come from? Why do we have them? Civil rights in U. S. law have revolved around what, if any, personal characteristics should control the legal relation of an individual to others and to the community at large, particularly in regard to law’s recognition of what a person could and could not do, should and should not do, and the basis on which capacity and constraint rest. This presentation seeks to develop a picture of the legal principles and practices of civil rights as federal law during its formative period.
Thomas J. Davis teaches U.S. constitutional and legal history at Arizona State University and has taught as a visiting professor of law at the ASU College of Law. As an historian and lawyer, he focuses on civil rights, employment, and property law (particularly on issues of race, identity and law) in addition to constitutional matters. He received his PhD in U.S. history from Columbia University and his JD cum laude from the University at Buffalo Law School. He is the author most recently of Plessy v. Ferguson (Santa Barbara CA, 2012).