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Alexander v. Sandoval

    Facts. Petitioner, James Alexander (the “Petitioner”), was the director of Alabama’s Department of Public Safety (the “Department”). The Department received grants of financial assistance from both the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and United States Department of Transportation. As such, the Department was subject to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VI”). Section 601 of Title VI states, 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”. Section 602 allowed federal agencies to promulgate regulations to “effectuate the provisions” of §601. The DOJ adopted a regulation forbidding recipients of funding from “utilize[ing] criteria or methods of administration which have the effect of subjecting individuals to discrimination because of their race, color, or national origin….”. The state of Alabama amended a provision in its Constitution to make English “the official language of the state of Alabama”. Under the auspices of this amendment, and in the name of public safety, the Department required all state driver’s license tests be administered in English. The Respondent, Sandoval (the “Respondent”), a class representative, brought a class action suit to enjoin the English only driver’s tests, arguing that they violated the DOJ regulation, because they discriminated against non-English speakers due to their national origin. The District Court enjoined the license test policy. The Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court. Both the District Court and Court of Appeals rejected the argument that Title VI did not create a private cause of action.

     

    Issue. Can individuals bring a private cause of action to enforce disparate-impact regulations promulgated under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964?

     

    Held.  

     

    Discussion. [Justice Scalia, joined by Rehnquist, Thomas, O’Connor, and Kennedy] With respect to Title VI, there are three aspects which must be taken as a given: 1) Private individuals may sue to enforce § 601 of Title VI and obtain both injunctive relief and damages (relying on Cannon v. Univ. of Chicago and based on subsequent Congressional ratification); 2) §601 only forbids intentional discrimination (see Guardians Assn. v. Civil Serv. Comm’n of New York City, relying on Univ. of California v. Bakke); and 3) for the purposes of this case, the Court assumed 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†(as voiced by five justices in the Guardians opinion).

    The disparate impact regulations at issue do not apply § 601 (as they forbid conduct which § 601 allows), so a private right to enforce § 601 would not logically result in a private right to enforce these regulations (which must be based on the independent force of § 602). § 602 certainly provides the authority to promulgate disparate-impact regulations, but the issue is whether it also provides a private right to enforce such regulations, bearing in mind that private causes of action to enforce federal law must be created by Congress and not by the Court. The text must be interpreted to determine Congressional intent.

    Because the text of §602 does not include “rights creating” language (as present in Cannon), but instead governs federal agencies, it is twice removed from the individuals who will ultimately benefit from Title VI. Citing California v. Sierra Club (holding that statutes that focus on the person regulated rather than the individuals protected create “no implication of an intent to confer rights on a particular class of personsâ€), the Court reasons that §602 is yet a step further removed: “it focuses neither on the individuals protected nor even on the funding recipients being regulated, but on the agencies that will do the regulating.†Therefore, §602 reveals no congressional intent to create a private right of action.

    In addition, because §602 provided various methods to enforce such regulations, it clearly did not manifest an intent to create a private remedy. The Court opined that notwithstanding whatever “the restrictions on agency enforcement may imply for the private enforcement of rights created outside of § 602…they tend to contradict a congressional intent to create privately enforceable rights through § 602 itself.â€

    The argument that the regulations themselves created a private right of action is off-base, because only Congressional statutes may create such rights (i.e., a regulation would only invoke a right of action based on statutory text).

    Finally, pertaining to Respondents’ argument that two Title VI amendments ratified an implied private right of action to enforce the disparate-impact regulations based on precedent, such amendments only refers to violation of a statute, not a regulation.


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