National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was founded in 1909 in New York City to improve the social and economic conditions of black US citizens. The initial spur to creating the NAACP was a riot in 1908, in Springfield, Illinois, which had been the hometown of President Abraham Lincoln (1809–65), where whites had attempted to drive out and even kill black residents, and the organization’s first major campaigns were against the still common practice of lynching. Many of the organization’s strategies go back to early years, as exemplified by their famous 1915 public boycott of Birth of a Nation, a film by D. W. Griffith, claiming that it depicted blacks in a degrading way. Perhaps more important was their decade-long fight against voting discrimination, notably the protest over the ‘grandfather’ clause in the voting laws of certain southern states, which enfranchised only those whose grandfathers had voted, automatically disenfranchising blacks, whose grandfathers, as slaves, could not vote (see voting rights). The NAACP’s most famous and most important success was the Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954, although its Legal Defense and Education Fund had been fighting previous cases since the late 1930s. After 1963 the NAACP became involved in more direct political action, such as the ‘Jobs and Freedom’ march on Washington, led by Martin Luther King, Jr. Although still very active, with a membership of around half a million, the NAACP has come to be seen as slightly conservative by many black radicals, and is thought to have little support among inner-city black populations, being more attractive to middle class blacks.

National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) is a US federal law enacted in 1935, largely at the instigation of President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945), and often known as the Wagner Act, after its sponsor, Senator Robert R. Wagner (1877–1953). The law governs the labour-management relations of business firms engaged in interstate commerce, as the federal government does not have jurisdiction to legislate in purely state matters where there is no constitutional involvement. Its aim was to guarantee trade-union rights to workers and protect the legality of strikes, which had often been hotly contested during the earlier days of the great depression, and the Act created the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to protect these rights. The Act prevents employers from engaging in unfair labour practices such as coercing employees not to organize or join a union, and from practising discrimination in regard to hiring or dismissal of employees or to any term or condition of employment, in order to encourage or discourage membership in any labour organization. Above all the Act forbids employers to refuse to bargain collectively with the representative chosen by a majority of employees in an enterprise recognized by the NLRB (see collective bargaining).

Before the NLRA there had been no federal protection for the development of a union movement, but as a consequence of union activity following the Act, the number of organized workers rose from about 3.5 million in 1935 to about 15 million in 1947. Though later less pro-union administrations and congresses amended the Act, particularly with the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947, which ruled out any closed-shop agreement between employers and employees, the basics of US industrial relations law still follow the NLRA process. As such it has had one of the most lasting impacts on civil rights of the entire US New Deal, and is a good example of how legal creation and enforcement of rights can be successful even in a context as unsympathetic to those rights as a society otherwise committed to laissez faire ideals.

Natural justice in English law

Apart from its general importance in legal philosophy, natural justice is a technical term in English common law, with similarities to the concept of due process in US legal thinking. US courts use the term ‘natural justice’, but in a wider sense than in its technical usage in the United Kingdom. Natural justice in the UK refers to the conditions necessary for a judicial or quasi-judicial decision to be regarded as fair. These are usually summarized under two requirements: the first is that everyone is entitled to a hearing (aude alteram partem); and the second that every judge must be free of bias (nemo iudex in parte sua). In themselves the rules might seem quite obvious, and have been described as ‘general principles of law common to civilized communities’, and recognized as such by international tribunals and many national courts. There has, however, been divergence over the application of these general doctrines by different legal systems. Of the two maxims, the one forbidding a judge to decide a case in which he has an interest is the more straightforward. It has always been interpreted with tremendous rigour in the UK, such that the merest possibility of a judge having a direct interest, however trivial, especially of a financial nature, in the outcome of a case, is enough to disbar him from hearing it. The classic case occurred in 1866 when, after 10 years of litigation, Lord Cottenham gave a decision in a case involving a canal company. After the decision the losing party discovered that the judge held a minimal number of shares in the company, and the House of Lords felt required to set aside his decision, even though they insisted that he could not possibly have actually been influenced by the fact. The rule has been extended quite widely, including acquitting people convicted when it was discovered that a member of the jury was related to someone involved in a case.

The rule granting the right to a hearing has been more problematic, especially when the rules of natural justice have been applied to bodies other than actual courts. In these instances it is unclear what specific rights need to be included to ensure an effectively fair, as opposed to a nominally fair, hearing. Should the person concerned be allowed helpers, and if so, can they include professional lawyers? What rights does he have regarding access to documentation and so on? Exactly what must the accused be told of the charges and evidence against him? This is an ever-developing area of law, and the requirements for a fair hearing are steadily extended. Those requirements are: full legal representation, sometimes paid for by the state where an accused is too poor to provide for himself (see legal aid and right to counsel

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