On April 20, 1871, President Grant signed into law the Ku Klux Klan Act, the Reconstruction Congress’s latest effort to address the ongoing terror rampant in the post-Civil War South. Section 1 of the Act created a private cause of action against “any person who, under color of any law . . . shall subject, or cause to be subjected any person . . . to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution of the United States.” Although most of the Act is no longer on the books, Section 1 lives on, found today in the U.S. Code at 42 U.S.C. § 1983. After it came into being, Section 1 sat dormant for 90 years. In 1961, it burst forth to protect against government abuse and compensate its victims. Perhaps the most important civil rights law of all time outside of the Constitution itself, it’s known by all civil rights lawyers simply as “Section 1983.”

Join us on the 150th anniversary of this sword of the Constitution. Hosted by the Center for Judicial Engagement at the Institute for Justice, the online event will include conversations with historians and legal scholars who have studied Section 1983’s origins and its struggle to emerge as a central tool in the fight for civil rights, as well as a roundtable discussion with civil rights attorneys of today on the impact this law has on their fight for justice and what the future holds in the face of the many threats the spirit of the law currently faces.

Questions? Contact Rachel at [email protected]

The History of Passing America’s Most Consequential Civil Rights Law

Session I — 12 pm ET-12:30 pm ET

  • Paul Finkelman, President of Gratz College.
  • Interviewer: John Ross, producer of Bound By Oath.

Inside of Monroe v. Pape and Legal Debates Surrounding Section 1983

Session II — 12:30 pm ET-1:10 pm ET

  • John Ross, producer of Bound by Oath.
  • Fred Smith Jr., Associate Professor of Law at Emory School of Law.
  • Interviewer: Anya Bidwell, Elfie Gallun Fellow in Freedom and the Constitution at the Institute for Justice.

Stories from the Trenches: Litigating Section 1983 Cases, A Roundtable

Session III — 1:15 pm ET-2 pm ET

  • Kelsi Brown Corkran, Georgetown Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection.
  • Victor I. Fleitas, Civil Rights Attorney.
  • Bob McNamara, Institute for Justice.
  • Moderator: Anthony Sanders, Director of the Center for Judicial Engagement.