Enforcing Civil Rights

Race Discrimination and the Department of Justice

Brian K. Landsberg

The 1964 Civil Rights Act confirmed the central role of the Department of Justice in the national battle against racial discrimination. Congress had established the department's Civil Rights Division in 1957 with a staff of a dozen to combat racial discrimination in voting; its current staff of 500 now prosecutes many forms of discrimination in employment, housing, education, and other areas.

In Enforcing Civil Rights, a former member of the CRD focuses on the role of that agency in combating the racial caste system in America. Brian Landsberg's overview of civil rights enforcement reveals the political realities and national priorities that shaped it; the moral, practical, and political forces that have influenced it; and the roles of the federal government, executive branch, and Attorney General in implementing it.

“A readable, informative, and interesting account of the history and organization of US civil rights laws and their enforcement in the Civil Rights Division.


“An essential starting point for anyone who wishes to think seriously about the state of our national commitment to racial justice, and about the means best suited for enforcing that commitment.

—Human Rights
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Drawing on case law, legislative histories, Justice Department archives, and his own years of service, Landsberg provides a reflective insider's view of how the CRD has enforced civil rights. He tells how Congress broadened its mandate—from authority to sue state and local governments to jurisdiction over individuals and companies—and how the CRD weathered Washington's shifting political winds. He also conveys the challenges that came with the responsibility of enforcing legislation for an entire nation and describes the roles of law, politics, and historical forces in the CRD's setting of priorities and litigation policy.

In addition, Landsberg addresses conflicts between career civil servants and political appointees, studies the consequences of its litigation positions, and considers whether the structure of enforcement should be changed. He offers some sensible recommendations for rationalizing and strengthening the federal civil rights enforcement structure.

The CRD has done much to eliminate America's racial caste system, but Landsberg cautions that we must take care to ensure that it does not become a tool of narrow interests. His book provides the understanding we need to safeguard against that risk, while offering a new perspective on the civil rights movement in America.

About the Author

Brian K. Landsberg served as an attorney in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice from 1964 to 1986, where he was Chief of the Appellate Section for twelve years. He is presently professor of law at McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento.

Additional Titles in the Studies in Government and Public Policy Series