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Alexander v. Sandoval

April 24, 2001

JAMES ALEXANDER, DIRECTOR, ALABAMA DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY, ET AL., PETITIONERS
v.
MARTHA SANDOVAL, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED



Court Below: 197 F. 3d 484

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

OCTOBER TERM, 2000

ALEXANDER v. SANDOVAL

NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued. The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader. See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U. S. 321, 337.

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

ALEXANDER, DIRECTOR, ALABAMA DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY, et al. v. SANDOVAL, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated

Certiorari To The United States Court Of Appeals For The Eleventh Circuit

No. 99-1908.

Argued January 16, 2001

Decided April 24, 2001

As a recipient of federal financial assistance, the Alabama Department of Public Safety (Department), of which petitioner Alexander is the Director, is subject to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Section 601 of that Title prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin in covered programs and activities. Section 602 authorizes federal agencies to effectuate §601 by issuing regulations, and the Department of Justice (DOJ) in an exercise of this authority promulgated a regulation forbidding funding recipients to utilize criteria or administrative methods having the effect of subjecting individuals to discrimination based on the prohibited grounds. Respondent Sandoval brought this class action to enjoin the Department's decision to administer state driver's license examinations only in English, arguing that it violated the DOJ regulation because it had the effect of subjecting non-English speakers to discrimination based on their national origin. Agreeing, the District Court enjoined the policy and ordered the Department to accommodate non-English speakers. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. Both courts rejected petitioners' argument that Title VI did not provide respondents a cause of action to enforce the regulation.

Held: There is no private right of action to enforce disparate-impact regulations promulgated under Title VI. Pp. 3-17.

(a) Three aspects of Title VI must be taken as given. First, private individuals may sue to enforce §601. See, e.g., Cannon v. University of Chicago, 441 U. S. 677, 694, 696, 699, 703, 710-711. Second, §601 prohibits only intentional discrimination. See, e.g., Alexander v. Choate, 469 U. S. 287, 293. Third, it must be assumed for purposes of deciding this case that regulations promulgated under §602 may validly proscribe activities that have a disparate impact on racial groups, even though such activities are permissible under §601. Pp. 3-5.

(b) This Court has not, however, held that Title VI disparate-impact regulations may be enforced through a private right of action. Cannon was decided on the assumption that the respondent there had intentionally discriminated against the petitioner, see 441 U. S., at 680. In Guardians Assn. v. Civil Serv. Comm'n of New York City, 463 U. S. 582, the Court held that private individuals could not recover compensatory damages under Title VI except for intentional discrimination. Of the five Justices who also voted to uphold disparate-impact regulations, three expressly reserved the question of a direct private right of action to enforce them, 463 U. S., at 645, n. 18. Pp. 5-7.

(c) Nor does it follow from the three points taken as given that Congress must have intended such a private right of action. There is no doubt that regulations applying §601's ban on intentional discrimination are covered by the cause of action to enforce that section. But the disparate-impact regulations do not simply apply §601 -- since they forbid conduct that §601 permits -- and thus the private right of action to enforce §601 does not include a private right to enforce these regulations. See Central Bank of Denver, N. A. v. First Interstate Bank of Denver, N. A., The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Scalia

On Writ Of Certiorari To The United States Court Of Appeals For The Eleventh Circuit

This case presents the question whether private individuals may sue to enforce disparate-impact regulations promulgated under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

I.

The Alabama Department of Public Safety (Department), of which petitioner James Alexander is the Director, accepted grants of financial assistance from the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) and Department of Transportation (DOT) and so subjected itself to the restrictions of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 78 Stat. 252, as amended, 42 U. S. C. §2000d et seq. Section 601 of that Title provides that no person shall, "on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity" covered by Title VI. 42 U. S. C. §2000d. Section 602 authorizes federal agencies "to effectuate the provisions of [§601] ... by issuing rules, regulations, or orders of general applicability," 42 U. S. C. §2000d-1, and the DOJ in an exercise of this authority promulgated a regulation forbidding funding recipients to "utilize criteria or methods of administration which have the effect of subjecting individuals to discrimination because of their race, color, or national origin ... ." 28 CFR §42.104(b)(2) (1999). See also 49 CFR §21.5(b)(2) (2000) (similar DOT regulation).

The State of Alabama amended its Constitution in 1990 to declare English "the official language of the state of Alabama." Amdt. 509. Pursuant to this provision and, petitioners have argued, to advance public safety, the Department decided to administer state driver's license examinations only in English. Respondent Sandoval, as representative of a class, brought suit in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama to enjoin the English-only policy, arguing that it violated the DOJ regulation because it had the effect of subjecting non-English speakers to discrimination based on their national origin. The District Court agreed. It enjoined the policy and ordered the Department to accommodate non-English speakers. Sandoval v. Hagan, 7 F. Supp. 2d 1234 (1998). Petitioners appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, which affirmed. Sandoval v. Hagan, 197 F. 3d 484 (1999). Both courts rejected petitioners' argument that Title VI did not provide respondents a cause of action to enforce the regulation.

We do not inquire here whether the DOJ regulation was authorized by §602, or whether the courts below were correct to hold that the English-only policy had the effect of discriminating on the basis of national origin. The petition for writ of certiorari raised, and we agreed to review, only the question posed in the first paragraph of this opinion: whether there is a private cause of action to enforce the regulation. 530 U. S. 1305 (2000).

II.

Although Title VI has often come to this Court, it is fair to say (indeed, perhaps an understatement) that our opinions have not eliminated all uncertainty regarding its commands. For purposes of the present case, however, it is clear from our decisions, from Congress's amendments of Title VI, and from the parties' concessions that three aspects of Title VI must be taken as given. First, private individuals may sue to enforce §601 of Title VI and obtain both injunctive relief and damages. In Cannon v. University of Chicago, 441 U. S. 677 (1979), the Court held that a private right of action existed to enforce Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 86 Stat. 373, as amended, 20 U. S. C. §1681 et seq. The reasoning of that decision embraced the existence of a private right to enforce Title VI as well. "Title IX," the Court noted, "was patterned after Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964." 441 U. S., at 694. And, "[i]n 1972 when Title IX was enacted, the [parallel] language in Title VI had already been construed as creating a private remedy." Id., at 696. That meant, the Court reasoned, that Congress had intended Title IX, like Title VI, to provide a private cause of action. Id., at 699, 703, 710-711. Congress has since ratified Cannon's holding. Section 1003 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1986, 100 Stat. 1845, 42 U. S. C. §2000d-7, expressly abrogated States' sovereign immunity against suits brought in federal court to enforce Title VI and provided that in a suit against a State "remedies (including remedies both at law and in equity) are available ... to the same extent as such remedies are available ... in the suit against any public or private entity other than a State," §2000d-7(a)(2). We recognized in Franklin v. Gwinnett County Public Schools, 503 U. S. 60 (1992), that §2000d-7 "cannot be read except as a validation of Cannon's holding." Id., at 72; see also id., at 78 (Scalia, J., concurring in judgment) (same). It is thus beyond dispute that private individuals may sue to enforce §601.

Second, it is similarly beyond dispute -- and no party disagrees -- that §601 prohibits only intentional discrimination. In Regents of Univ. of Cal. v. Bakke, 438 U. S. 265 (1978), the Court reviewed a decision of the California Supreme Court that had enjoined the University of California Medical School from "according any consideration to race in its admissions process." Id., at 272. Essential to the Court's holding reversing that aspect of the California court's decision was the determination that §601 "proscribe[s] only those racial classifications that would violate the Equal Protection Clause or the Fifth Amendment." Id., at 287 (opinion of Powell, J.); see also id., at 325, 328, 352 (opinion of Brennan, White, Marshall, and Blackmun, JJ.). In Guardians Assn. v. Civil Serv. Comm'n of New York City, 463 U. S. 582 (1983), the Court made clear that under Bakke only intentional discrimination was forbidden by §601. 463 U. S., at 610-611 (Powell, J., joined by Burger, C. J., and Rehnquist, J., concurring in judgment); id., at 612 (O'Connor, J., concurring in judgment); id., at 642 (Stevens, J., joined by Brennan and Blackmun, JJ., dissenting). What we said in Alexander v. Choate, 469 U. S. 287, 293 (1985), is true today: "Title VI itself directly reach[es] only instances of intentional discrimination."*fn1

Third, we must assume for purposes of deciding this case that regulations promulgated under §602 of Title VI may validly proscribe activities that have a disparate impact on racial groups, even though such activities are permissible under §601. Though no opinion of this Court has held that, five Justices in Guardians voiced that view of the law at least as alternative grounds for their decisions, see 463 U. S., at 591-592 (opinion of White, J.); id., at 623, n. 15 (Marshall, J., dissenting); id., at 643-645 (Stevens, J., joined by Brennan and Blackmun, JJ., dissenting), and dictum in Alexander v. Choate is to the same effect, see 469 U. S., at 293, 295, n. 11. These statements are in considerable tension with the rule of Bakke and Guardians that §601 forbids only intentional discrimination, see, e.g., Guardians Assn. v. Civil Serv. Comm'n of New York City, supra, at 612-613 (O'Connor, J., concurring in ...


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