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Competing Justices: A Comment on Race and Gender Discrimination

Lane Feler

The Then

Fifty years ago, masses took to the streets to demand equal rights under law in this country, culminating in one of the most comprehensive statutory overhauls of U.S. history. The 1964 Civil Rights Act (CRA) represented a political moment, one of social inertia and progressive change. Moreover, it was an inclusive outcome, recognizing the many interwoven strands of discrimination; to root out discrimination entirely, the CRA was designed to attack from all sides, be it discrimination based upon race or sex. Fifty years have passed, but more keenly than ever do we see still-existent tears in the fabric of American society, even amongst those seeking to repair it. If we look closely at the history of the CRA, we can see the moment may continue on anomalously.

Alice Paul
Alice Paul

As lore would have it, the inclusion of the Sex Amendment to the CRA boiled down to a stab at political jettisoning; that is, certain Congressmen believed in earnest that adding “sex” to the protections of the Act would effectively bury it. While some parties certainly did—and continue—to believe this tale,[1] the Sex Amendment instead stands as testament to a long-fought battle by women such as Alice Paul, whose earliest claim to fame was her status as a militant suffragist of the Pankhurst ilk. As far as Paul was concerned, where the Equal Rights Amendment had failed, the CRA might succeed. Congressman Herbert Smith—a friend to Paul whose political interests conveniently lay in deregulating the female workforce—submitted the Sex Amendment. The rest, as they say, is history.

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