I am testifying in support of H.3533 and S.1688, An Act to Restore Enforcement of Civil Right, of which I am the lead Senate sponsor.
Prior to the Supreme Court’s decision in Alexander v Sandoval in 2001, individuals in the Commonwealth had the right to seek redress for policies that had an unintentional discriminatory effect before a state court. This bill would restore that right.
The Supreme Court’s decision in Sandoval overturned nearly thirty years of precedent which had long read Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to imply a right to seek redress for unintentional discrimination.
In the wake of the Sandoval decision, residents of Massachusetts who are discriminated against by government action have no legal recourse if that action is brought about because of indifference or insensitivity rather than outright prejudice. But we know that indifference or insensitivity in public policy can be just as corrosive and damaging as deliberate discrimination and for nearly half a century we trusted our courts to address this kind of systemic inequity.
Though this bill would allow residents of Massachusetts to challenge a broad range of policies, I’d like to focus on the question of environmental justice for just a moment to drive this point home. We know for a fact, both in Massachusetts and in the country at large, that low income communities and communities of color are more likely to be exposed to dangerous levels of pollution and are more likely to be within close proximity to waste incinerators, power plants, toxic cleanup sites and the like. Disparities in public health data bear out the consequences of these disproportionate impacts. Although these impacts are systemic, in the absence of a right to take action in court to address this indirect discrimination, there is no potential systemic remedy to these problems.
President John F. Kennedy identified “simple justice” as the premise for Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. At the time he said, “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. Direct discrimination by Federal, State, or local governments is prohibited by the Constitution. But indirect discrimination, through the use of Federal funds, is just as invidious; and should be outlawed.”
This bill will restore the right of the people of Massachusetts to seek simple justice. I urge the Committee to give the bill a favorable report.
Thank you for your consideration of my remarks.