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Hastings Women’s Law Journal

Abstract

The foundation of the United States of America is rooted in mankind's inherent desire to live in a free and democratic society where everyone has equal protection under the law. Our founders embodied this fundamental principle in the U.S. Constitution, and our federal and state governments embodied it in federal and state laws. After the Civil War, a growing wave of terrorism by the Ku Klux Klan threatened the rights of former black slaves. On March 28, 1871, in response to this terrorism, Rep. Samuel Shellabarger (R., Ohio) introduced a bills which was later enacted as the Ku Klux Act of 1871. Section 1 of the Act passed almost as introduced with no amendment and with little debate in both Houses of Congress.6 Section 1 of the Ku Klux Klan Act, now codified as 42 U.S.C. Section 1983,7 was first interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1939.8 Section 1983 extends its protection to all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States who are deprived of rights guaranteed by the Constitution or federal laws by a person acting under color of state law.9 Similar to the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendmeneo and the 1964 Civil Rights Act, II Section 1983 does not create any substantive rights of its own. The purpose of Section 1983 is to create a cause of action for citizens who are deprived of the enjoyment of rights, privileges, and immunities guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendmentl2 or federal law by reasons of prejudice, passion, neglect or intolerance. The Supreme Court has held, however, that a cause of action under Section 1983 requires a deprivation of a right caused by someone acting under color of state authority.

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