Reassessing the rights revolution

Lynda G. Dodd

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Today the “rights revolution” of the 1960s and 1970s is most often associated with the changes ushered in by the Supreme Court's 1954 opinion in Brown v. Board of Education, the doctrinal innovations of the Warren Court, and the transformative civil rights legislation of the 1960s, especially the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The rights revolution developed in the wake of a sustained popular mobilization, but the institutional reforms that followed were, as one commentator puts it, “led by the Establishment.” The rights revolution consisted of both sweeping changes in constitutional doctrines and landmark legislative reform, followed by decades of innovative implementation in every branch of the federal government – Congress, agencies, and the courts. In recent years, a growing number of political scientists have sought to integrate studies of the rights revolution's implementation into accounts of the contemporary American state. The central purpose of this volume is to gather some of the most innovative analyses of the civil rights state to explore the institutional dynamics, scope, and durability of the rights revolution. This reassessment of the rights revolution highlights the institutional turn in the political science scholarship on civil rights enforcement. The contributions to this volume evaluate the role of federal government institutions – Congress, the executive branch, and the federal courts – in strengthening or undermining the private enforcement regime that has taken hold since the 1960s. While the contributors to this volume draw upon a rich sociolegal literature on civil rights litigation and its impact, they are particularly influenced by scholarship in the American political development tradition that is “‘polity centered,’ foregoing explanatory privilege to either social interests or the state and looking instead at what is up and running, which is the full array of organized interactions between the two.” TAKING STOCK In recent years, the fiftieth anniversaries of many of these landmark Johnson-era civil rights bills and the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 have inspired a wide-ranging discussion concerning the legacy and impact of the rights revolution. Leading trade publishers have issued an impressive crop of books describing the enactment of these landmark civil rights bills and assessing their legacy, and scholars in a range of disciplines have offered synthetic accounts of the impact of the rights revolution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Rights Revolution Revisited
Subtitle of host publicationInstitutional Perspectives on the Private Enforcement of Civil Rights in the US
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9781316691199
ISBN (Print)9781107164734
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Social Sciences


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