The Yale Law Journal

October 2019

Disparate-Impact Liability for Policing

Civil-Rights LawAntidiscrimination LawPolicing

abstract. This Note justifies disparate-impact liability for police practices. It develops the first structured analysis of the Safe Streets Act’s (SSA’s) antidiscrimination power and argues that the SSA imposes disparate-impact liability on police departments. The analysis includes an examination of the statute’s text, the historical meaning of “discrimination,” statutory purposes, and subsequent lawmaking on policing. The Note then considers the implications of disparate-impact liability under the SSA. Most notably, individuals can use the SSA’s private right of action to hold police departments accountable for disproportionate racial effects. While conventional legal tools for police reform appear inadequate, the SSA emerges as an unrecognized path forward.

author. Yale Law School, J.D. expected 2020; Princeton University, M.P.A. expected 2020; Princeton University, B.A. 2014. I am grateful to Owen Fiss for his unrelenting guidance throughout the development of this Note. I thank Reva Siegel for her thoughtful feedback and illuminating perspectives on disparate-impact doctrine. Thanks also go to Jesse Tripathi, Josh Zoffer, and Ariana Tiwari for their insightful comments on various drafts. Finally, I thank John Nann for invaluable research support and the Yale Law Journal editors, especially Alaa Chaker, for their excellent suggestions and careful editing. All errors and omissions are my own.