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Bean v. Southwestern Waste Management Corp.

Significance

The decision established various factors that must be met by an individual in successfully charging that a land use decision is discriminatory. An intent to discriminate must be demonstrated. Decisions that may appear poorly based to some people are not necessarily unconstitutional or illegal. The requirement to establish intent was much more difficult than simply showing that the effects of a governmental decision was unequal on different racial groups.

Following the rise of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, a series of cases reached the Supreme Court in the 1970s in which individuals challenged government actions due to the disproportionate impacts on ethnic minorities. In Washington v. Davis (1976) and Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Corp. (1977), the Court established tough standards for citizens to prove discrimination. In Davis, African American police officer candidates challenged the constitutionality of written tests as being racially discriminatory and in Arlington Heights African American Illinois residents challenged the denial of a zoning change by a city blocking a low-income housing development.

In both cases, the Court held that proving a discriminatory racial impact was not enough. The alleged victim must prove an intent to discriminate motivated the decision-makers. Many considered the decisions a blow to the civil rights movement. The Court asserted that a person pressing such a case must not only describe the actual effect of the official action, but also explore the historical background of the decision, the specific sequence of events leading to the challenged decision, how the action may have been a departure from normal procedures, if normal factors were weighed in the decision, and what was the administrative history of the decision. This standard was viewed as almost insurmountable by many.

An earlier case, Yick Wo v. Hopkins (1886), involved refusal of a license by the City of San Francisco to a Chinese laundry operator. The Court established a stringent statistical process for examining the disproportionate effect of government actions on minority populations.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1973 to 1980Bean v. Southwestern Waste Management Corp. - Significance, Waste Management In Houston, Laches And State Action, Impact, Further Readings