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Reforming and repealing LBJ's Civil Rights Act, 50 years later

A sketched portrait of former president Lyndon B. Johnson.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, spearheaded by cultural progressives and African-American empowerment groups, has long been considered the zenith of a historically oppressed people's uphill struggle against institutional racism. On this premise, most of the country is celebrating the recent fifty-year anniversary of former president Lyndon B. Johnson’s signing of this legislation. The premise, however, conspicuously errs in its take on the legislation, because certain planks of it actually hamper civil rights, rendering that phrase in the bill’s title a misnomer worth rectifying.

Titles I, II-VI, and IX-XI of the CRA concern public-funded institutions, which is fine; government discrimination invariably breeds oppression. Titles II, VII, and VII, meanwhile, restrict business’ financial sovereignty, limiting their right to associate with and service whomever they want.

This is not necessarily, though, a defense of the motives compelling someone to actively discriminate. For, objectivist philosopher Ayn Rand submits, "Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism. It is the notion of ascribing moral, social or political significance to a man’s genetic lineage—the notion that a man’s intellectual and characterological traits are produced and transmitted by his internal body chemistry. Which means, in practice, that a man is to be judged, not by his own character and actions, but by the characters and actions of a collective of ancestors." Whether discrimination is morally reprehensible, assuming it does not infringe upon another’s right to life, liberty, and estate, is irrelevant.

Title II of the 1964 Civil Rights Act "prohibits discrimination because of race, color, religion, or national origin in certain places of public accommodation, such as hotels, restaurants, and places of entertainment," according to the Department of Justice. This part of the bill is anachronistic, and in modern times a mechanism deferred, through PR crises, to consumer pressure. In other words, a business that discriminates on a wide-scale would be unlikely to survive long without reforming that policy, especially if the business engages in economic activity with cosmopolitan areas, which run progressive.

For example, Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich, who literally invented JavaScript, was ousted because an online dating service blocked Mozilla Firefox browser users from visiting their site, all over a $1,000 donation Eich made in support of California’s now-dead Proposition 8, which temporarily barred same-sex marriages in the state. This led to a bunch of online protesters calling for his removal. The protesters held steadfast, failing to account for Eich’s workplace diversity programs, which even LGBT Mozilla employees lauded. If spurious outrage like this garners controversy, outright discrimination would lead to riots, evincing the irrelevancy of Title II.

Discrimination would ferment in backwoods areas and, if the business practicing it desires to maximize its income, it would likely limit its discrimination to some relatively unobtrusive time or day. Moreover, it is to the consumer's benefit to know whether a place wants their service or not. It is preferable to avoid a place of business than to end up paying for a covertly inferior good, following some form of economic or quality sabotage on the part of the place of business.

The Legal Information Institute outlines Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act: It "prohibits discrimination in many more aspects of the employment relationship. It applies to most employers engaged in interstate commerce with more than 15 employees, labor organizations, and employment agencies. The Act prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Sex includes pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions. It makes it illegal for employers to discriminate in relation to hiring, discharging, compensating, or providing the terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. Employment agencies may not discriminate when hiring or referring applicants. The Act also prohibits labor organizations from basing membership or union classifications on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin."

First, the application of this rule begins at the arbitrary employee size of 15, necessarily preventing the growth of groups advocating a particular worldview; the government should not have the power to suppress the expansion of a group because they do not like its political objectives.

Later parts of Title VII also have some of the starkest financial implications. Inherently, hiring a pregnant woman costs a business more than it would for a single man, due to potential time off, training for replacement employees, and possible maternity leave payment.

That part of the CRA parlayed into the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which as Time reports, has unsurprisingly failed to end employer discrimination for this matter. According to the Grindstone, Sheryl Sandberg, outspoken feminist and COO of Facebook, has called for a more intense dialogue between women employees and their place of work, particularly with questions like whether women plan to get pregnant. A shift toward this, Sandberg says, would lead to increased social equity for women in the workplace. Some argue that it is quite cheaper to hire women, though that argument fails to index the so-called "wage gap," or disparity in income between men and women, to education levels and hours worked.

Among other things, an amended Title VIII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act "[a]lso includes the Fair Housing Act, which is a law that stops discrimination in sale or rental or property," according to Wikipedia.

As uncomfortable as the reality may seem, empirical data finds a clear link between minorities moving into a neighborhood, and property values decreasing. This has great ramifications for traditionally homogeneous areas and, on a macroeconomic scale, contributed to the mid-20th century phenomenon of white flight, or wealthier whites moving to homogeneous suburban areas.

Yet in more multiculturalist places, lower property values, and thus a lower income level and credit level for entry, may be seen as a plus, and boon to diversity. On the contrary, the CRA-enabled Fair Housing Act contributes to the gentrification, meaning, according to PBS, the "general term for the arrival of wealthier people in an existing urban district," of traditionally homogeneous places, which hurts both majority and minority groups. It would be preferable to allow some coalition of like-minded individuals to congregate and agree to bar the rental of their property to certain groups, in an effort to maintain the cultural integrity of the area. This would, of course, be a restrained practice at the start of the repeal of Title VIII, but even if the practice of limiting rentals to certain groups were but a pipe dream, the freedom to do so is what matters.

For the time being, the political feasibility of reforming the 1964 Civil Rights Act is capped. For the past few years, groups like the Center for American Progress have lambasted the Paul political family for their steadfast opposition to the aforementioned titles, and stoked much controversy over it.

If anything, the pendulum is swinging toward greater federal restrictions of liberty. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and the proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act, effectively outlaw any type of discrimination, from physical and mental capacity to sexuality. And with the Supreme Court declining to hear the case of a controversial New Mexico studio who refused to photograph a lesbian couple's wedding, and had to pay thousands in lawyer's fees for it, this is not too far-fetched of a prediction.

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