A U.S. District Court’s injunction against the EPA and DOJ will have wide-ranging ramifications for American law. These ramifications will stretch far beyond the environmental policy issue directly in play.
You can read the Court’s opinion, below.
The EPA had sought to require Louisiana’s environmental quality department to both: (a) analyze its permitting decisions for any racially disparate impacts (of each such decision and all such decisions, cumulatively); and (b) alter its decisions to avoid such impacts. The EPA claimed that such efforts “effectuate[d]” Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its regulations.
Louisiana countered that neither Title VI, nor any other federal law, authorized the EPA to require such race-based decision-making. It argued that no federal regulation could constitutionally impose such requirements.
The ACR Project and Hamilton Lincoln Law Institute added arguments in support of the state through an amicus brief.
District Court Ruling
The Court enjoined the agencies “from imposing or enforcing any disparate impact based requirements against the State or any State agency under Title VI[.]”
It recognized that Title VI itself bars intentional discrimination, not facially neutral policies that, when evenhandedly applied, have disparate impacts. It determined that the EPA and DOJ have interpreted their Title VI regulations to prohibit disparate impacts (even if there was no intentional discrimination) and have sought to impose substantive extra-regulatory requirements on how Louisiana administers its environmental quality regime.
Then, the Court ruled that:
- the state has standing to challenge these actions;
- the major questions doctrine applies “to the imposition of disparate impact mandates under Title VI[;]”
- Congress never unambiguously authorized such a result; and
- Guardians (the main Supreme Court precedent the agencies claimed as authority for their power to impose disparate impact liability administratively) had “no presidential effect as to the validity of disparate impact regulations under Title VI.”
The District Court’s ruling poses major problems for the current administration’s “whole of government” approach to pursuing so-called “equity” through parallel “enforcement” of Title VI across agencies.
We do not yet know if the federal government will appeal the District Court to address those problems, or decline to do so in order to prevent a higher court from affirming. We’ll have more to say on this once that becomes clear.