Lau v. Nichols

Lau v. Nichols, 414 U.S. 563 (1974), was a civil rights case that was brought by Chinese American students living in San Francisco, California who had limited English proficiency. The students claimed that they were not receiving special help in school due to their inability to speak English, which they argued they were entitled to under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because of its ban on educational discrimination on the basis of national origin. Finding that the lack of linguistically appropriate accommodations (e.g. educational services in English) effectively denied the Chinese students equal educational opportunities on the basis of their ethnicity, the U.S. Supreme Court in 1974 ruled in favor of the students, thus expanding rights of students nationwide with limited English proficiency. The Supreme Court stated that these students should be treated with equality among the schools. Among other things, Lau reflects the now-widely accepted view that a person's language is so closely intertwined with their national origin (the country someone or their ancestors came from) that language-based discrimination is effectively a proxy for national origin discrimination.

Lau remains an important decision on the fourteenth amendment, and is frequently relied upon as authority in many cases (the San Francisco Unified School District remains covered by the consent decree that was ultimately entered into in the Lau case, and civil rights groups continue to monitor SFUSD's compliance with that decree).

[Lau v. Nichols, 414 U.S. 563 (1974); Lau v. San Francisco Unified School District, U.S.D.C., N.D. Cal., No. C 70-627 CW.]
The case relied on Section 601 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and not the 14th amendment.