Federal Courts

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In response to The Civil War Congress enacted The Civil Rights Act of 1871 subsequently known as 42 USC § 1983. Section 1983, applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment, provides a civil remedy for persons who are deprived of constitutionally protected rights by persons acting “under the color of law”.

The 1961 Supreme Court decision, Monroe v. Pape, establishes federal courts as the primary enforcers of federally protected rights by holding, that a person may bring a §1983 action in federal court without exhausting state remedies. For several reasons, as discussed in Justice Frankfurter’s dissent, the majority opinion in Monroe expanded §1983 beyond the intent of its draftsmen.

Three purposes of §1983 where established before Monroe: 1)to override discriminatory state laws; 2)to provide a remedy when state law is inadequate and 3)to provide a remedy when the state recourse is adequate in theory but not available in practice. In Monroe, Justice Douglas purports to establish a fourth aim of §1983- to provide a remedy in federal court supplementary to any remedy any state may have.

The majority opinion claims, among other things, legislative history for this invalid expansion of § 1983. The history behind §1983 is limited. However, there is much history for its predecessor the 1871 act. This history undoubtedly provides support for the first three aims of §1983 but little support is found for the Monroe created aim. In short the legislative context for both ...