High Court Decision Expected to Chill Future Civil Rights Suits

Black Issues in Higher Education, May 1, 2001 | Go to article overview

High Court Decision Expected to Chill Future Civil Rights Suits


NOTEWORTHY NEWS: High Court Decision Expected to Chill Future Civil Rights Suits

WASHINGTON

The U.S. Supreme Court's recent reversal of two lower court decisions in a lawsuit challenging a state's English-only policy is expected to have a chilling effect on other types of civil rights lawsuits, including those aimed at challenging higher education policies that yield a discriminatory effect, experts say.

The high court ruled last month, in Alexander v. Sandoval by a vote of 5-4, to limit the scope of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, asserting that private individuals cannot sue public agencies that receive federal funds over rules they consider racially or ethnically discriminatory.

"This is definitely going to have an effect on civil rights cases, not just national origin cases," says Angelo Amador, a national policy analyst with the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF).

One higher education case that is expected to be affected by the Sandoval decision is that filed by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund against the University of California. In that case, the plaintiffs claim the university's admissions policies have a "disparate impact" on students of color. Efforts to get a statement from the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund were unsuccessful, but LDF attorney Theodore Shaw was cited in The Washington Post as saying he and his colleagues would have to reassess their plan of action.

The University of California, meanwhile, remains unmoved. "I don't think this case will affect the University of California at all because our current standards meet the legal muster under Title VI," says Christopher Patti, counsel for the UC system. "We don't plan to change our admissions practices as a result of this decision."

The case that invoked the Supreme Court decision began when Martha Sandoval, a Mexican immigrant from Alabama, sued the state for not allowing her to take her driver's exam in Spanish. …

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