Golden Gate University Environmental Law Journal


Bradford Mank


One part of the 1982 civil rights struggle against building a Polychlorinated Biphenyls (“PCB”) landfill in Warren County, North Carolina, was an unsuccessful suit by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (“NAACP”) under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act . The NAACP alleged that the state of North Carolina, a recipient of United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA” or “the Agency”) funds, had discriminated against minorities by building the landfill in Warren County, which had the highest percentage of minorities among all the counties in the state, while ignoring several alternative suitable or superior sites in other locations in North Carolina that had lower percentages of minorities. After finding “not one shred of evidence that race has at any time been a motivating factor in any decision taken by any official,” the district court in NAACP v. Gorsuch denied the plaintiffs’ request for preliminary injunctive relief and concluded that there was little likelihood that the plaintiffs would prevail on the merits. The NAACP had to file a suit in federal court because the EPA had failed to enforce Title VI since the early 1970s. The district court’s unpublished decision itself had little influence on the development of Title VI law. One must look at the Warren County protests’ broader civil rights legacy to understand its influence on the enforcement of Title VI.