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How to Determine Intent: Lessons from L.A.

Kousser, J. Morgan (1990) How to Determine Intent: Lessons from L.A. Social Science Working Paper, 741. California Institute of Technology , Pasadena, CA. (Unpublished)

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In a series of decisions from 1970 to 1980, the United States Supreme Court shifted from an "effect" standard to an "intent" standard in racial and sex discrimination cases. Every step along the road from the Jackson, Mississippi swimming pool closing case' to the Mobile, Alabama city commission case2 was criticized by professors and policymakers. Indeed, the last step was so controversial that Congress overturned the Court's City of Mobile v. Bolden decision in the major amendment to the 1982 Voting Rights Act, allowing plaintiffs in voting rights cases to prevail by proving either a racially discriminatory intent or a racially discriminatory effect. How much difference has the shift made? Do Supreme Court decisions during the century following the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868 throw any light on the Court's more recent course? How, exactly, have courts said intent must be proven, and how do their standards comport with logic and normal professional conduct among historians? What sorts of evidence are relevant to proving intent, and why are they relevant? How, in practice, should one go about evaluating hypotheses about the motives of the framers of governmental rules? The best path to answers to such questions begins, it seems to me, with a detailed examination of one case. In August, 1988, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the American Civil Liberties Union filed Yolanda Garza et al. v. County of Los Angeles, California in the United States District Court for the Central District of California. Shortly thereafter, the United States Department of Justice instituted a similar suit against the County. Having testified as a historian and political scientist in six previous federal voting rights cases, I served as an expert witness for MALDEF and the ACLU on the question of whether, in recent years, the supervisorial district lines in Los Angeles county had been drawn with an intent to discriminate against Hispanics. This paper is a revised and much expanded version of the one I presented to the court. As in other cases, Garza was complex enough to require the attention of a professional historian because no one incident or piece of evidence was, by itself, conclusive. 5 Decided in favor of the plaintiffs by Judge David V. Kenyon on June 4, 1990, Garza deserves detailed attention not only for the light it throws on the general theoretical questions noted above, but also because the record on motivation is extraordinarily rich, because Los Angeles county has one of the largest populations of any jurisdiction ever sued in a voting rights case, and because it is the most important voting rights suit involving Hispanics ever filed.

Item Type:Report or Paper (Working Paper)
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Additional Information:Published as Kousser, J. Morgan (1991) How to Determine Intent: Lessons from L.A. Journal of Law & Politics, 7 . pp. 591-732.
Group:Social Science Working Papers
Series Name:Social Science Working Paper
Issue or Number:741
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20170831-154408354
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Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:81050
Deposited By: Jacquelyn Bussone
Deposited On:01 Sep 2017 17:31
Last Modified:03 Oct 2019 18:38

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