WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Supreme Court made it harder to enforce the nation's civil rights laws Tuesday, ruling that states, schools and colleges may not be sued for policies that have a discriminatory effect on blacks, Latinos or other minorities.
In a 5-4 ruling, the court's conservative majority trimmed back part of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Agencies that receive federal funds still can be sued if they deliberately discriminate against persons because of race or national origin.
However, they can no longer be sued on the grounds that their rules or policies have a harsher impact on minorities, the court said.
Conservative lawyers predicted that the decision will kill off lawsuits against the University of California and the National Collegiate Athletic Association that challenge their use of the Scholastic Aptitude Test. Some lawyers have contended that standards requiring minimum SAT scores for college admission or athletic eligibility have a discriminatory impact on minority students because they result in a disproportionate number of minority students being disqualified.
Tuesday's ruling also cast some doubt on the future impact of Title IX, the parallel federal law that forbids sex discrimination by schools and colleges. This 1972 measure, which forced most schools to increase their budgets for girls' athletics, is famous for revolutionizing women's sports.
At issue before the Supreme Court were two questions. Do the civil rights laws apply narrowly to intentional discrimination or more broadly to all policies that have a discriminatory impact on minorities? And who can enforce these laws: federal officials or individuals bringing lawsuits?
Since the mid-1960s, civil rights laws have been broadly read to cover all discrimination, and have been enforced through private lawsuits.
But many conservatives have insisted that the laws should be narrowed to apply only to deliberate racial discrimination. And they won a major victory in Tuesday's ruling.
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