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Forging Ahead Beyond Intent

By Eva Jefferson Paterson, Kimberly Thomas Rapp & Shannon Seibert

In 1976 in Washington v. Davis the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the disparate impact test for discrimination in favor of the intent doctrine. The new requirement created great difficulties for plaintiffs alleging discrimination in that it required proof that a law or policy with discriminatory results was motivated by intentional discrimination. A growing body of social science research into how discrimination truly operates offers advocates tools with which to challenge the intent doctrine. While the task appears daunting, advocates should look for inspiration to the decades-long struggle that culminated in Brown v. Board of Education.

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