Ever since the War of the States, Congress and the Supreme Court have clashed over the question of civil rights. Congress would move to guarantee certain rights for black Americans and the Supreme Court would turn around and limit those rights. At other times, the Supreme Court would expand these rights only to have Congress ignore them.

An instructive example:  At the Civil War's end, Congress passed the most sweeping civil rights legislation this nation has ever seen, and the Supreme Court swiftly moved to stifle the reach of those laws. Its rulings in the late 1800s 2013 most notable in Plessy v. Ferguson -- would usher in nearly a century of Jim Crow.

Conversely, the path to civil rights reveals points where the Supreme Court has grown impatient with Congress' unwillingness to protect the rights of black citizens. The best known example of this, of course, was the revolutionary Brown v. Board of Education decision that dealt the knockout blow to the doctrine of separate but equal treatment for black Americans. But it would take Congress more than a decade to actually force school desegregation.

Depending on your politics and the direction of the latest ruling at any given time, the court has been either radically activist in expanding civil rights or radically activist in stepping on the legislative branch to restrict these rights.

Last month, the Supreme Court struck down a key part of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act, and the outcry against an activist court rang anew. Many criticized the ruling as an extreme example of judicial overreach. They said the 5-4 decision that broke down along ideological lines trumped Congress' expansive constitutional authority to enact legislation to enforce the amendments guaranteeing black Americans the right to vote and equal protection under the law.

But Lawrence Goldstone, author of "Inherently Unequal: The Betrayal of Equal Rights by The Supreme Court, 1865-1903," said in an interview that every Supreme Court Justice is an activist. The makeup of the Court has always determined its stance on civil rights. Those on the Court claiming to be strict constructionists, he said, are living out a fantasy.

"The language of the Constitution is intentionally vague; it is such that there is no one interpretation that is obvious and clear to everyone," Goldstone said. "You've got a document and you've got nine people who are reading the document and saying this is what I think it means. No one person has a monopoly on understanding and interpreting the Constitution. And so then it becomes political."

When considering last month's rulings on affirmative action, the Voting Rights Act and the Defense of Marriage Act, it is useful to take the long view of the push and pull between Congress and the Supreme Court when it comes to civil rights.  The long arc of history might bend toward justice, but there's always been a lot of pendulum swinging along the way.

View an interactive timeline of America's long civil rights march

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  • Latinos Face The Second Highest Unemployment Rate In The U.S.

    In July, the national unemployment rate sat at<a href="http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm" target="_hplink"> 8.3 percent</a>, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The nation's Latino workers faced the <a href="http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t02.htm" target="_hplink">second highest unemployment rate</a> in the country, <a href="http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t03.htm" target="_hplink"> with 10.3 percent</a>, seeking work but unable to find it. Latino unemployment has become such a persistent problem that in July, Latino joblessness sat just 1 percent lower than it did during the same period a year ago. Other groups of workers are also struggling. Women over 20 continue to face a higher unemployment rate (10.5 percent) than men of the same age (8.2 percent).

  • The Fastest Growing Occupations In The U.S.

    In 2010, Hispanics made up <a href="http://www.bls.gov/ooh/about/projections-overview.htm#employment" target="_hplink">14.8 percent of the nation's workforce</a>, according to federal data. By 2020, that figure is projected to rise to 18.6 percent. Where will the jobs be? The 10 occupations expected to grow at the fastest pace by 2010: 1) Personal Care Aides (Jobs in health, beauty, and fitness) 2) Home Health Aides 3) Biomedical Engineers 4) Helpers--Brickmasons, Blockmasons, Stonemasons, and Tile and Marble Setters 5) Helpers--Carpenters 6) Veterinary Technologists and Technicians 7) Reinforcing Iron and Rebar Workers 8) Physical Therapist Assistants 9) Helpers--Pipelayers, Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters 10) Meeting, Convention, and Event Planners <a href="http://www.bls.gov/ooh/about/projections-overview.htm#employment" target="_hplink">Click here</a> to see a list of the 20 fastest-growing occupations on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website. (See Table 1)

  • Educational Needs For Fastest Growing Jobs

    Sixteen of the 20 occupations expected to grow most rapidly by 2020, require a high school diploma or its equivalent. Four occupations that require less than a high school diploma rank near the top of this list. However, the median wages paid to these workers at the start of the decade lay between $19,000 and $28,000. Workers in other fast-growing occupations on the list, such as Biomedical Engineering, were paid much more. Biomedical Engineers, the nation's third fastest-growing group of workers, also enjoyed the highest median wage ($81, 540). Entering this field requires at least a Bachelor's degree. <a href="http://www.bls.gov/ooh/about/projections-overview.htm#employment" target="_hplink">Click here</a> to see wages and education data for all 20 occupations on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics website. (See Table 1)

  • Most Profitable Occupations For Latinos

    While <a href="http://www.bls.gov/ooh/about/projections-overview.htm#employment" target="_hplink">less than half of the 20 fastest growing occupations</a> are in the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), studies have noted that these fields often prove to be the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/15/stem-majors-profitable-minority-students_n_1785021.html#slide=1394053" target="_hplink">most lucrative for minority students.</a> Biomedical Engineering anyone? <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/03/top-25-colleges-graduating-science-technology-engineering-math_n_1733086.html" target="_hplink">Click here</a> to view the 25 colleges producing the largest number of Latino graduates with STEM degrees.

  • More Latinos Are Enrolling In Higher Education Institutions

    In August, a Pew Hispanic Center analysis of new Census Bureau data showed that in 2011, for the first time, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/20/hispanics-college-enrollment-largest-minority_n_1813655.html" target="_hplink"> Hispanics students made up the largest minority group on college campuses</a>. Over 2 million students ages 18 to 24 are enrolled two-year and four-year institutions. The same report showed that last year Hispanics also <a href="http://www.pewhispanic.org/2012/08/20/hispanic-student-enrollments-reach-new-highs-in-2011/" target="_hplink">made up a record 24 percent of all students</a> in public schools, pre-K through 12th grade.

  • But, Graduation Rates Continue To Lag For Latinos

    Despite an increase in enrollment, the number of Hispanics graduating from two-year and four-year institutions lags behind that of other groups. In 2010, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, 112,000 associate degrees and 140,000 bachelor's degrees were awarded to Hispanics, compared to the 1.2 million bachelor's degrees given to non-Hispanic white students and the 165,000 bachelor's degrees awarded to non-Hispanic black students. Nevertheless, the number of Hispanics graduating from college continues to grow. In 2010 the number was seven times higher than it was four decades before. The number of Latino students graduating from high school has also grown, a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/20/hispanics-college-enrollment-largest-minority_n_1813655.html" target="_hplink">76 percent rise from 2010 to 2011.</a> However, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, the <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=16" target="_hplink">Hispanic high school dropout rate of 15.1 percent continues to outpace that of all other racial and ethnic groups. </a>

  • Latino Degree Pursuits Do Not Align With Workforce Needs

    In spite of job and pay opportunities in STEM occupations, Hispanics represent a small number of those receiving degrees in this field. In 2010, <a href="http://edexcelencia.org/sites/default/files/exc2012fyw_stem_final_web_2.pdf" target="_hplink">Latinos were awarded 8 percent of all STEM certificates and degrees</a>, according to Excelencia in Education's 'Finding Your Workforce' series. The Washington, D.C-based research organization<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/03/top-25-colleges-graduating-science-technology-engineering-math_n_1733086.html" target="_hplink">aims to link Hispanic students with the needs of the U.S. workforce.</a> The top field graduating Latinos was Science, with 10,900 degrees conferred, followed by Engineering, with 9,930 degrees. The organization also found that in both health and STEM fields, Latinos were concentrated in lower paying jobs. In health <a href="http://edexcelencia.org/sites/default/files/exc2012fyw_health.pdf" target="_hplink">most were employed within support occupations</a> (such as health aides) rather than practitioners (like dentists and surgeons). In STEM fields, the <a href="http://edexcelencia.org/sites/default/files/exc2012fyw_stem_final_web_2.pdf" target="_hplink">majority were employed in service jobs (like telecommunications line installers and repairers)</a> rather than professional occupations (such as engineering managers).