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The Impact of the Obama Presidency on Civil Rights Enforcement in the United States

14 Pages Posted: 14 Oct 2010 Last revised: 4 Jun 2011

Joel W. Friedman

Tulane University - Law School

Date Written: rev. February 14, 2011


The election of the nation’s first African-American president was hailed as an event that signaled the dismantling of “the last racial barrier in American politics.” Beyond the unique historical aspect of Obama’s election triumph, the results of the 2008 presidential election were interpreted by many as marking the onset of a new era of American "post-racialism". What then, if anything, can be predicted or observed about the impact of the election of a mixed-race President on the enforcement of anti-discrimination laws in the United States?

In the immediate aftermath of the 2008 presidential election, pundits and other observers gleefully and ruefully predicted that the election would have an immediate, clear, and powerful impact on the future course of civil rights enforcement. If given the time and opportunity, according to the traditional wisdom, President Obama’s appointments to the Supreme Court eventually would stall, if not reverse, that court’s nearly-quarter-century long pattern of restrictively construing the collection of federal anti-discrimination statutes. Similarly, over time, his appointment of federal (trial and appellate court) judges and top officials and decision makers of federal agencies, particularly the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), would result in a more expansive interpretation and enforcement of federal civil rights laws. A mixed-race president, it was presumed, also would instruct the Department of Justice to more aggressively intervene in emerging civil rights issues and more actively enforce extant anti-discrimination laws. This would include directing the Office of the Solicitor General to promote a more expansive interpretation of civil rights statutory and constitutional issues through its filing of amicus curiae briefs on behalf of the federal government in the Supreme and lower federal courts. With President Obama’s term nearing its half-way point, the record is inconclusive as to the impact that his election has had on the enforcement of anti-discrimination laws.

Keywords: Civil Rights, Employment Discrimination, Justice Department, Obama, Antidiscrimination

JEL Classification: J7, K31

Suggested Citation

Friedman, Joel W., The Impact of the Obama Presidency on Civil Rights Enforcement in the United States (rev. February 14, 2011). Tulane Public Law Research Paper No. 10-03. Available at SSRN:

Joel W. Friedman (Contact Author)

Tulane University - Law School ( email )

New Orleans, LA 70118
United States
504-865-5985 (Phone)

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