On December 31, 1996, a non-English speaking Alabama resident filed suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, challenging the policy of Alabama Department of Public Safety under which driver's license examinations were administered only in English. Plaintiff alleged that the policy was unconstitutional and in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d, et seq., and its implementing regulations. Attorneys with the Southern Poverty Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Northern California, Inc., the Employment Law Center, and private firms represented the plaintiff.
The District Court certified the case as a class action, with the class defined as "all legal residents of the State of Alabama who are otherwise qualified to obtain a Class D private vehicle driver's license but cannot do so because they are not sufficiently fluent in English."
Following a hearing, the District Court (Judge Ira De Ment) issued an extensive opinion, finding that the regulation had impermissible disparate impact on basis of national origin in violation of Title VI, and was not supported by substantial legitimate justification. The Court issued a permanent injunction barring enforcement of the regulation. Sandoval v. Hagan, 7 F.Supp.2d 1234 (M.D.Ala. 1998). The State appealed and the Appellate Court affirmed. Sandoval v. Hagan, 197 F.3d 484 (11th Cir. 999). The State's petition for rehearing and suggestion for rehearing en banc was denied. Sandoval v. Hagan, 211 F.3d 133 (11th Cir. 2000).
The Supreme Court granted certiorari. Alexander v. Sandoval, 530 U.S. 1305, 121 S.Ct. 28, 147 L.Ed.2d 1051 (U.S. Sep 26, 2000). The Supreme Court reversed the district court's judgment, holding that that individuals could not sue federally funded agencies over policies that had an unjustified discriminatory impact on members of minority groups. Alexander v. Sandoval, 532 U.S. 275, 121 S.Ct. 1511, 149 L.Ed.2d 517 (2001).
On remand, the Appellate Court entered an order reversing its prior opinion, vacating the district court's decision and remanding the case for dismissal in accordance with the Supreme Court's judgment. Sandoval v. Hagan, 268 F.3d 1065 (11th Cir. 2001).
It is reported that despite the Supreme Court ruling, Alabama continues to offer the driver's tests in eight foreign languages.Dan Dalton - 12/12/2007