|Lau v. Nichols
[ Douglas ]
[ Stewart ]
[ Blackmun ]
Lau v. Nichols
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT
MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.
The San Francisco, California, school system was integrated in 1971 as a result of a federal court decree, 339 F.Supp. 1315. See Lee v. Johnson, 404 U.S. 1215. The District Court found that there are 2,856 students of Chinese ancestry in the school system who do not speak English. Of those who have that language deficiency, about 1,000 are given supplemental courses in the English language. [n1] About 1,800, however, do not receive that instruction.
This class suit brought by non-English-speaking Chinese students against officials responsible for the operation of the San Francisco Unified School District seeks relief against the unequal educational opportunities, which are alleged to violate, inter alia, the Fourteenth Amendment. No specific remedy is urged upon us. [p565] Teaching English to the students of Chinese ancestry who do not speak the language is one choice. Giving instructions to this group in Chinese is another. There may be others. Petitioners ask only that the Board of Education be directed to apply its expertise to the problem and rectify the situation.
The District Court denied relief. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that there was no violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment or of § 601 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 78 Stat. 252, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d which excludes from participation in federal financial assistance, recipients of aid which discriminate against racial groups, 483 F.2d 791. One judge dissented. A hearing en banc was denied, two judges dissenting. Id. at 805.
We granted the petition for certiorari because of the public importance of the question presented, 412 U.S. 938.
The Court of Appeals reasoned that
[e]very student brings to the starting line of his educational career different advantages and disadvantages caused in part by social, economic and cultural background, created and continued completely apart from any contribution by the school system,
483 F.2d at 797. Yet, in our view, the case may not be so easily decided. This is a public school system of California, and § 71 of the California Education Code states that "English shall be the basic language of instruction in all schools." That section permits a school district to determine "when and under what circumstances instruction may be given bilingually." That section also states as "the policy of the state" to insure "the mastery of English by all pupils in the schools." And bilingual instruction is authorized "to the extent that it does not interfere with the systematic, sequential, and regular instruction of all pupils in the English language." [p566]
Moreover, § 8573 of the Education Code provides that no pupil shall receive a diploma of graduation from grade 12 who has not met the standards of proficiency in "English," as well as other prescribed subjects. Moreover, by § 12101 of the Education Code (Supp. 1973), children between the ages of six and 16 years are (with exceptions not material here) "subject to compulsory full-time education."
Under these state-imposed standards, there is no equality of treatment merely by providing students with the same facilities, textbooks, teachers, and curriculum, for students who do not understand English are effectively foreclosed from any meaningful education.
Basic English skills are at the very core of what these public schools teach. Imposition of a requirement that, before a child can effectively participate in the educational program, he must already have acquired those basic skills is to make a mockery of public education. We know that those who do not understand English are certain to find their classroom experiences wholly incomprehensible and in no way meaningful.
We do not reach the Equal Protection Clause argument which has been advanced, but rely solely on § 601 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d to reverse the Court of Appeals.
That section bans discrimination based "on the ground of race, color, or national origin," in "any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance." The school district involved in this litigation receives large amounts of federal financial assistance. The Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW), which has authority to promulgate regulations prohibiting discrimination in federally assisted school systems, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d-1, in 1968 issued one guideline that
[s]chool systems are responsible for assuring that students of a particular race, color, or national origin are not denied the [p567] opportunity to obtain the education generally obtained by other students in the system.
33 Fed.Reg. 4956. In 1970, HEW made the guidelines more specific, requiring school districts that were federally funded "to rectify the language deficiency in order to open" the instruction to students who had "linguistic deficiencies," 35 Fed.Reg. 11595.
By § 602 of the Act, HEW is authorized to issue rules, regulations, and orders [n2] to make sure that recipients of federal aid under its jurisdiction conduct any federally financed projects consistently with § 601. HEW's regulations, 45 CFR § 80.3(b)(1), specify that the recipients may not
(ii) Provide any service, financial aid, or other benefit to an individual which is different, or is provided in a different manner, from that provided to others under the program;
* * * *
(iv) Restrict an individual in any way in the enjoyment of any advantage or privilege enjoyed by others receiving any service, financial aid, or other benefit under the program.
Discrimination among students on account of race or national origin that is prohibited includes "discrimination . . . in the availability or use of any academic . . . or [p568] other facilities of the grantee or other recipient." Id., § 80.5(b).
Discrimination is barred which has that effect even though no purposeful design is present: a recipient "may not . . . utilize criteria or methods of administration which have the effect of subjecting individuals to discrimination" or have
the effect of defeating or substantially impairing accomplishment of the objectives of the program as respect individuals of a particular race, color, or national origin.
Id. § 80.3(b)(2).
It seems obvious that the Chinese-speaking minority receive fewer benefits than the English-speaking majority from respondents' school system, which denies them a meaningful opportunity to participate in the educational program -- all earmarks of the discrimination banned by the regulations. [n3] In 1970, HEW issued clarifying guidelines, 35 Fed.Reg. 11595, which include the following:
Where inability to speak and understand the English language excludes national origin minority group children from effective participation in the educational program offered by a school district, the district must take affirmative steps to rectify the language deficiency in order to open its instructional program to these students.
Any ability grouping or tracking system employed by the school system to deal with the special language skill needs of national origin minority group children must be designed to meet such language skill needs as soon as possible, and must not operate as an educational dead-end or permanent track.
Respondent school district contractually agreed to "comply with title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 . . . and all requirements imposed by or pursuant to the [p569] Regulation" of HEW (45 CFR pt. 80) which are "issued pursuant to that title . . ." and also immediately to "take any measures necessary to effectuate this agreement." The Federal Government has power to fix the terms on which its money allotments to the States shall be disbursed. Oklahoma v. CSC, 330 U.S. 127, 142-143. Whatever may be the limits of that power, Steward Machine Co. v. Davis, 301 U.S. 548, 590 et seq., they have not been reached here. Senator Humphrey, during the floor debates on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, said: [n4]
Simple justice requires that public funds, to which all taxpayers of all races contribute, not be spent in any fashion which encourages, entrenches, subsidizes, or results in racial discrimination.
We accordingly reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand the case for the fashioning of appropriate relief.
Reversed and remanded.
MR. JUSTICE WHITE concurs in the result.
1. A report adopted by the Human Rights Commission of San Francisco and submitted to the Court by respondents after oral argument shows that, as of April 1973, there were 3,457 Chinese students in the school system who spoke little or no English. The document further showed 2,136 students enrolled in Chinese special instruction classes, but at least 429 of the enrollees were not Chinese, but were included for ethnic balance. Thus, as of April, 1973, no more than 1,707 of the 3,457 Chinese students needing special English instruction were receiving it.
2. Section 602 provides:
Each Federal department and agency which is empowered to extend Federal financial assistance to any program or activity, by way of grant, loan, or contract other than a contract of insurance or guaranty, is authorized and directed to effectuate the provisions of section 2000d of this title with respect to such program or activity by issuing rules, regulations, or orders of general applicability which shall be consistent with achievement of the objectives of the statute authorizing the financial assistance in connection with which the action is taken. . . .
3. And see Report of the Human Rights Commission of San Francisco, Bilingual Education in the San Francisco Public Schools, Aug. 9, 1973.
4. 110 Cong.Rec. 6543 (Sen. Humphrey, quoting from President Kennedy's message to Congress, June 19, 1963).