Although the story of federal protection of civil rights is conveniently told chronologically, two themes predominate. First, federal protection of civil rights has a paradoxical relationship with states' rights. All civil rights legislation has been opposed or limited in response to the argument that the federal government should not involve itself in areas of state responsibility. The Supreme Court repeatedly voiced this concern and, in the past, invalidated civil rights legislation partly on this ground. Deference to state law enforcement prerogatives always has been a centerpiece of Justice Department civil rights enforcement policy. For decades, Congress repeatedly rebuffed so basic a measure as antilynching legislation in the name of states' rights.

Yet the original federal civil rights statutes, and their underlying constitutional amendments, were responses to ...

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