A Discussion of the Civil Right Act of 1964

by Alex Merced

Having started an organization dedicated to building tolerance in a libertarian framework, I might as well go ahead an attack the elephant in the room when it comes to libertarians and issues like these. Often times when libertarians take on the mantle of social progress absent of government by discussing things like marriage equality or ending the drug war, progressives attempt to dismiss us libertarians by arbitrarily bringing up the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its public accommodations clause. In order to show why this dismissive argument is unfair and a distraction from modern discussions, let’s first learn about the contents of the 11 articles of the civil right act and see what libertarian reservations would be.

Article I – Banned unequal application of voting laws. I can’t imagine any libertarian having a problem with this particular clause. It’s the epitome of “equality under the law.” Although, all this did was end unequal application of current laws, it didn’t end other forms of voting disenfranchisement. This was later done in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was weakened in 2013 by the Supreme Court. I personally think the voting rights act was a reasonable law. It’s not about state or federal rights but preventing oppression by government and any tool that can prevent any oppression is fine with me. (From my understanding the VRA doesn’t violate any property rights, instead it restrains state governments from limiting the participation of it’s citizens in democratic elections.)

Article II – Often referred to as the public accommodations clause, it prohibits discrimination in hotels, restaurants, etc. engaging in interstate commerce (exempting private clubs, so essentially you can create an establishment only open to private members if you really want to be discriminatory). I will discuss the controversy over this particular clause and my take on it after I finish all the articles of the CRA.

Article III – This banned discrimination in public institutions like public parks and restrooms. While libertarians are generally for privatizing most public property, anything that is publicly owned should be open to well, the public. In other words, this is a no brainer for libertarians. It’s like marriage. While many libertarians don’t think a marriage license should exist, as long as it does it should be available to everyone.

Article IV – This enabled the desegregation of public schools. For libertarianism this is perfectly fine by the same logic as Article III.

Article V – Strengthened the Civil Rights Commission that was created in 1957, which only investigates and makes recommendations. From a libertarian perspective this is mild since it can’t really compel anything but it costs taxpayer money to maintain such a commission. I understand the need of a feedback mechanism for issues like these, but like them or not, don’t organizations like the NAACP and ACLU kind of serve this purpose with mostly voluntary donations?

Article VI – Bans discrimination by agencies that receive federal funds. While libertarians aren’t really big on public funds in the first place, I don’t see why regulating the use of public funds and public institutions would bother any libertarians. You’re not messing with anyone’s property that wasn’t already confiscated via taxation.

Article VII – Bans discrimination by employers of 15 or more (also exempts business where the trait you’re discriminating against is vital to the job). Myself along with most libertarians don’t think people should segregate their business or be discriminatory in hiring based on things like race. But, it’s always uneasy with libertarians when you set a precedent for telling people what do with their property (for many their business is their property). So this along with clause II is what usually gets us libertarians in trouble with the orthodoxy.

Article VIII – required the collection of race and gender data in voting. Aside from the cost to the taxpayer, I can’t think of anything to really complain about here. The data can be useful. Although when you collect data like this, you make people think of data in terms of race and gender vs. other traits and characteristics that may highlight other trends. (You can’t measure everything, but what one measures does shape how people think about things, which is worth thinking about)

Article IX – This article made it easier to take a state case ruled on by a segregationist judge and move it to the federal courts. I don’t see any problems with this, if someone is in a situation where they can’t receive a trial from an impartial judge there should be recourse.

Article X – Created the Community Relations Service, which helps communities resolve disputes over discrimination. Aside from the funding, I don’t see any particular thing to be offended about.

Article XI – Allows placing the violators of the other articles in criminal contempt for up to $1000 fine and up to 6 months in jail. Aside from the enforcement of charges against private property use I don’t see a particular problem with this.

My Personal Opinion

The civil rights act isn’t on anyones radar to repeal for two reasons:

– There are laws that create actual problems that need to be dealt with like Sarbanes Oxley, Affordable Care Act, and Dodd Frank. Usually this half-century old law only comes up as political fodder to entrap libertarians.

– When I look at all the articles I find that I can more often agree with than disagree with the law. (Although, in principle, the clauses that violate private property rights can make me feel slightly uncomfortable. However the clauses preventing local governments from segregating public spaces makes me feel good and makes up for the previously stated discomfort.)

The controversy

Most libertarians probably aren’t fully aware of all the articles in the CRA, but libertarians like myself are very hard pressed to ever express any kind of flexibility on our resolution of private property rights (because they are integral to functioning markets, and we tend to really appreciate how small concessions can lead to large losses of other freedoms over time).

At the end of the day if I was a libertarian congressman in 1964 (probably wouldn’t have been back then considering I’m Latino), I would probably have to cast my vote for the act due to the value of it’s restraints on government power to compel discrimination. While many libertarians are very split on this pointless hypothetical that is often given to us I think it is generally a worthwhile law with fewer flaws than many others.

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