Ensuring Civil Rights Protection in Transportation Decisions

Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits racial discrimination by programs that receive federal funds. However, in 2001 the Supreme Court decided in Alexander v. Sandoval that individual citizens cannot bring private lawsuits under Title VI for actions (called a “private right of action”), taken by agencies that receive federal funding, that have discriminatory effects.  Instead, these actions can only be brought into court if it can be proved that the program’s activities were meant to purposefully (or “intentionally”) discriminate, the standards for which are virtually impossible to prove.

Without the ability to bring a private right of action in the transportation bill, individuals are severely restricted in their ability to challenge potential racially discriminatory effects that may result in agency implementation of the bill. The federal surface transportation reauthorization act should explicitly provide a private right of action to enforce Title VI disparate impact regulations on recipients of federal transportation funds.