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Racial Equality After Ricci

Nusrat Choudhury,
Legal Director, ACLU of Illinois
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July 22, 2009

On June 29, the Supreme Court delivered its decision in Ricci v. DeStefano. The court found the City of New Haven had violated the right of 17 white firefighters and one Latino firefighter to be free from discriminatory treatment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act when it decided to scrap the results of a test that the city believed had unfairly disadvantaged black and other Latino firefighters in violation of a different provision of the same statute.

Some people mistakenly concluded the Ricci decision altered the constitutionality of government actions to address racial inequality and discrimination. This misunderstanding perpetuates the incorrect belief that government can never take race or racial inequality into consideration when making policy.

Today, the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program released a new guide: Promoting Opportunity and Racial Equality in America: A Guide for Federal, State and Local Governments, to dispel this confusion. The guide clarifies how government officials can consider race and racial inequality in policymaking, while still respecting equal protection rights guaranteed by the Constitution’s Fifth and 14th Amendments.

As the guide explains, not only do federal law and regulations continue to prohibit federally-funded programs from engaging in racial discrimination, government officials are allowed to and should continue to follow constitutional law permitting them to advance racial equality and equal opportunity through the design of policies and programs.”

This message is one that state and local government officials should remember as they spend billions of federal stimulus dollars to boost their economies and lift people out of economic hardship.

We should all celebrate and recognize the enormous strides that our country has made to advance the American ideals of racial equality and opportunity. Yet, there remains a great deal of work to do. Today, we suffer from an economic recession that hurts us all, but disproportionately impacts communities of color, among others, and widens racial inequalities that have never completely gone away.

Government can and should play a role in fighting racial inequality and supporting equal opportunity for all Americans. President Obama affirmed this sentiment in a speech given last Thursday at the NAACP Centennial Convention when he said: “Yes, government must be a force for opportunity. Yes, government must be a force for equality.”

To learn more, listen to a podcast about the Ricci decision and the constitutional law permitting government to promote racial equality and equal opportunity for all Americans:


You can also visit to learn about the disproportionate impact the economic crisis has had on communities of color. also has information about various federal stimulus programs, and provides access to resources and tools that citizens, civil rights advocates and policymakers can use to ensure that stimulus funds promote equality and opportunity for all Americans.