Rights Gone Wrong

How Law Corrupts the Struggle for Equality

Richard Thompson Ford

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

A New York Times Notable Book for 2011

Since the 1960s, ideas developed during the civil rights movement have been astonishingly successful in fighting overt discrimina­tion and prejudice. But how successful are they at combating the whole spectrum of social injustice—including conditions that aren’t directly caused by bigotry? How do they stand up to segregation, for instance—a legacy of racism, but not the direct result of ongoing discrimina­tion? It’s tempting to believe that civil rights litigation can combat these social ills as efficiently as it has fought blatant discrimination.

In Rights Gone Wrong, Richard Thompson Ford, author of the New York Times Notable Book The Race Card, argues that this is seldom the case. Civil rights do too much and not enough: opportunists use them to get a competitive edge in schools and job markets, while special-interest groups use them to demand special privileges. Extremists on both the left and the right have hijacked civil rights for personal advantage. Worst of all, their theatrics have drawn attention away from more seri­ous social injustices.

Ford, a professor of law at Stanford University, shows us the many ways in which civil rights can go terribly wrong. He examines newsworthy lawsuits with shrewdness and humor, proving that the distinction between civil rights and personal entitlements is often anything but clear. Finally, he reveals how many of today’s social injustices actually can’t be remedied by civil rights law, and demands more creative and nuanced solutions. In order to live up to the legacy of the civil rights movement, we must renew our commitment to civil rights, and move beyond them.


Read an Excerpt

Entitlement and Advantage
Now you want me to tell you my opinion on autism…? A fraud, a racket. For a long while we were hearing that every minority child had asthma … Why was there an asthma epidemic amongst minority children? Because I’ll tell you why: the children got extra welfare if they were disabled, and they got extra help in school. It was a money racket … Now the illness du jour is autism. You know what autism is? I’ll tell you what autism is. In 99 percent of the cases, it’s a brat who hasn’t been


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RIGHTS GONE WRONG by Richard Thompson FordKirkus Book Reviews
Read the Kirkus Review of RIGHTS GONE WRONG How Law Ignores Common Sense and Undermines Social Justice. A law professor argues against the harmful misuse of our civil-rights laws.
- Kirkus Reviews

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  • Richard Thompson Ford

  • Richard Thompson Ford is the George E. Osborne Professor of Law at Stanford Law School. He has pub­lished regularly on the topics of civil rights, constitutional law, race rela­tions, and antidiscrimination law. He is a regular contributor to Slate and has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and the San Francisco Chronicle.

  • Richard Thompson Ford ©Acey Harper


Richard Thompson Ford

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Rights Gone Wrong

How Law Corrupts the Struggle for Equality

Richard Thompson Ford