Academic journal article St. John's Law Review

How the Sandoval Ruling Will Affect Environmental Justice Plaintiffs

Academic journal article St. John's Law Review

How the Sandoval Ruling Will Affect Environmental Justice Plaintiffs

Article excerpt



Despite any transgressions resulting from the current political climate, our government rarely insidiously and overtly discriminates against its people on the basis of race. Unfortunately, discrimination still plays a role in our society, but its presence has become harder to detect. The ubiquitous presence of environmental hazards in minority communities is evidence of this discrimination. This Comment intendeds to show how minority communities have fought against such discrimination, how the Supreme Court has recently altered that fight, and where communities are left in their quest to eradicate unfair treatment.


Environmental justice represents the methods of dealing with environmental racism.1 "Environmental racism" refers to the inequitable distribution of environmental hazards2 to IMAGE FORMULA7minority communities.3 Studies demonstrate that minority communities are subject to locally undesirable land uses more often than predominantly white communities.4 For instance, according to the United Church of Christ study, that was published in 1987, three out of the five largest commercial hazardous waste landfills were located in areas populated predominantly by minorities.5 IMAGE FORMULA9

Several paths lead to environmental justice. In some cases, groups of citizens band together to fight environmental hazards.6 In other cases, legislators and corporations consider the interests of minority and low-income communities when they develop plans for the municipality, city, or state. In addition, administrative agencies have recognized the problem of environmental racism and they have attempted to ensure their policies neither inadvertently nor adversely affect minority populations.7

Despite these efforts, environmental racism still exists. The primary reason for the continued existence of environmental racism is the nearly impossible burden of proof faced by environmental justice plaintiffs. Environmental justice plaintiffs must prove either a facially discriminatory intent or an actionable discriminatory effect, i.e., an effect so disproportionate that the only possible justification is a discriminatory intent. With the burden so high, courts continually shut their doors to environmental justice plaintiffs. Recently, the Supreme Court added to the burden of achieving environmental justice by removing an alternative avenue of relief. In Alexander v. Sandoval,8 the Court held that 602 of the 1964 Civil Rights Act did not create a freestanding private cause of action for plaintiffs to enforce regulations promulgated thereunder.9 For reasons discussed below, many environmental justice plaintiffs had previously relied on this private cause of action to seek redress. This Comment will evaluate other causes of action available to these plaintiffs in the wake of the Sandoval decision, how those causes of action differ from sec 602, and the impact the Court's decision will have on minority communities.10 IMAGE FORMULA12

A. The History of the Environmental Justice Movement

The quest for environmental justice began as an offshoot of the 1960s civil rights movement. Environmental justice, however, did not receive national attention until the early 1980s, when a series of protests occurred in Warren County, North Carolina. The citizens of Warren County, who were protesting the siting of a polychlorinated biphenyl landfill in a predominantly African-American county, finally gave the movement national exposure.11 Subsequently, environmental justice has been the subject of a variety of studies12 and volumes of academic discourse;13 it has also been addressed in several cases involving citizens trying to prevent environmentally adverse policies from affecting their community.14 The President of the United States has even recognized environmental racism. …

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