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March on Washington 50th Anniversary: Reflecting on Civil Rights

By Brett Snider, Esq. on August 27, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

In a commemoration that will span the last week of August, D.C. will be host to events reflecting on the 50 years since the March on Washington, as well as the victories for civil rights movements in the last five decades.

On Wednesday, it will have been 50 years since Martin Luther King delivered his iconic "I Have a Dream" speech, a speech which preceded the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 and continues to echo into the future, reports NBC News.

The D.C. Circuit was not a bystander during these times of social and political upheaval, and here are just a few of the recent notable cases which have passed through the Circuit in the arena of civil rights.

Voting Rights Act Examined

The controversial case that lead to the U.S. Supreme Court striking down a portion of Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Shelby County v. Holder, came first before the D.C. Circuit.

Unlike the majority in the SCOTUS case, the D.C. Circuit found that despite allegations of antiquated data, the singling out of jurisdictions under Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act was, for all of its problems, still due enough deference to Congress to be constitutional.

Much of the Court's sentiment is echoed in Justice Ginsberg's dissent in Shelby County, attempting to give the Voting Rights Act its intended effect of targeting discrimination in the areas most blighted by it.

Citizens United Expands Corporate Speech

In a startling case that will impact free speech cases for at least the next decade, in 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Citizens United v. FEC, a case which began in the D.C. district court. Although the D.C. Circuit didn't get a bite at this strange apple, national politics have been increasingly altered by its interpretation of funding as speech.

Among her other worries, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor hoped this decision wouldn't end in an avalanche of corporate control in an already uneasy democratic system. Amen.

D.C. Circuit Upholds Defendant's Rights

Even though the two prior cases are tied to more binding precedent, the D.C. Circuit has taken countless cases which affirm every individuals' rights against unwarranted government intrusion.

While GPS monitoring -- or something darn close -- remains an undecided area in many sister Circuits, the D.C. Circuit determined in 2010 that warrantless tracking a vehicle via GPS was indeed a Fourth Amendment-triggering search.

In a more recent case, the court in July affirmed that a woman arrested for an off-hand comment outside a 7-11 to D.C. police was entitled to the over $100,000 she received in damages for wrongful arrest.

The court even examined allegations of racial bias against appellants in the case of Fifth Circuit Judge Edith Jones.

It would be glib -- although tempting -- to sign off with a quote from MLK's now 50-year-old "Dream," so instead use the influential man's voice as your own inspiration as the nation reflects on five decades of civil rights progress.

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