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Law School Case Brief

Lau v. Nichols - 414 U.S. 563, 94 S. Ct. 786 (1974)


The Department of Health, Education, and Welfare guideline provides that school systems are responsible for assuring that students of a particular race, color, or national origin are not denied the opportunity to obtain the education generally obtained by other students in the system. 33 Fed. Reg. 4956. In 1970, the Department 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 F.R. 11595.


Non-English speaking students of Chinese ancestry brought a class suit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California against officials of the San Francisco Unified School District, seeking relief against alleged unequal educational opportunities resulting from the officials' failure to establish a program to rectify the students' language problem. The District Court denied relief, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed, holding that there was no violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment nor of 601 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.


Did the appellate court err in ruling that there was no constitutional violation or violation of § 601 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964?




The United States Supreme Court concluded that the school system violated § 601. Section 601 prohibited discrimination based upon race, color, or national origin in any program receiving federal financial assistance. The school system denied the students the opportunity to obtain the education received by other students in the school system by not providing adequate English courses. The students received fewer educational benefits than the English-speaking majority within the school system.

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