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Civil Rights Act of 1866

April 9, 1866

During Reconstruction, Congress passed several statutes aimed at protecting the rights of the formerly enslaved, many of them over the veto of President Andrew Johnson. One such law was the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which declared that all people born in the United States were U.S. citizens and had certain inalienable rights, including the right to make contracts, to own property, to sue in court, and to enjoy the full protection of federal law. The act gave the U.S. district courts exclusive jurisdiction over criminal cases related to violations of the act, and concurrent jurisdiction, along with the U.S. circuit courts, of all civil and criminal cases affecting those who were unable to enforce in state court the rights guaranteed by the act. The Civil Rights Act began a gradual transformation of the federal courts into the primary forums for individuals to enforce their constitutional and statutory rights.