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Landmark Case

Sandoval v. Alexander

Case Number


'English only' discrimination
Mexican immigrant Martha Sandoval was unable to obtain a valid Alabama driver's license because she did not speak English well enough to take the test - offered only in English. On behalf of Martha and thousands like her, the Center and two other civil rights organizations sued the Department of Pubic Safety for discrimination.

The Center won at trial in 1998 and the state began offering its driver's license test in Spanish and seven other languages. Since then, Sandoval and thousands of other non-English-speaking Alabama residents have successfully acquired their driver's licenses.

The Supreme Court decision on April 24, 2001, however, reversed the lower court ruling concerning the plaintiffs' right to sue and substantially limited the effectiveness of one of the nation's most important civil rights laws.

The court said that individuals can not sue federally funded agencies over policies that have an unjustified discriminatory impact on members of minority groups.

Despite the Supreme Court ruling, Alabama continues to offer the tests in eight foreign languages.