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Though civil rights and civil liberties represent two different areas of focus, there is no distinct line between the two.

The term civil rights gained popularity in the 1950s and ’60s and has become associated with Martin Luther King, Jr., the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and the March on Washington. One of the striking characteristics of today’s civil rights movement is its breadth and diversity, encompassing LGBT groups, disability advocacy, and immigrants’ rights organizations.

Civil liberties typically fall under the auspices of the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of expression, assembly, and religion. Some organizations also consider the right to operate a business or to develop property without government interference a part of civil liberties.

Recent hot topics in Civil Rights/Civil Liberties include issues dealing with the right to same-sex marriage, racial profiling, and problems stemming from a focus on national security.


Civil rights and civil liberties lawyers work in areas of the law that typically fall under the First Amendment’s freedom of expression, assembly, and religion (civil liberties), and under fourteenth amendment’s equal protection clause (civil rights). Civil rights lawyers share a commitment to creating a just society through legal means. To this end, they work on a variety of issues from lobbying for civil rights recognition in the judiciary to litigation-based civil rights advocacy. Civil rights lawyers work for domestic and international non-profit organizations, federal, state, local and international government agencies, and public interest law firms with specialty civil rights practices.

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