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Friday, March 12, 2010
Obama Administration Announces New Effort to Enforce Civil Rights in Education
The assistant secretary for civil rights, Russlynn H. Ali, angered conservatives by saying the department would start using "disparate-impact" analysis, which attempts to prove discrimination not through direct evidence of racist acts, but through numerical data showing that policies have a disproportionate impact on certain groups of people. The approach is controversial because numerical gaps in educational participation often can be linked to factors other than deliberate discrimination, such as gaps in educational preparation linked to culture, immigrant status, or socioeconomic class.
The U.S. Supreme Court barred the use of disparate-impact analysis as the basis of private lawsuits against federally supported state agencies in a 2001 decision. The majority opinion, written by Justice Antonin Scalia, said the civil-rights law at issue in the case, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, does not specifically give private citizens the right to sue to ensure that its provisions are enforced. As discussed at length in Color and Money, the Clinton administration came under intense criticism for--and eventually abandoned--proposed regulations warning college admissions offices not to rely too heavily on standardized tests that were thought to be biased against minority students or women based on disparate-impact analysis.