In a report yesterday on a Supreme Court ruling on the implied right of a person to sue educational institutions alleged to engage in sex discrimination, the word italicized below was inadvertently dropped from the third paragraph, changing its meaning: "In the opinion for the majority, Justice John Paul Stevens rejected the universities' contention that in enacting the 1972 education amendments to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Congress intended to entrust enforcement entirely to the federal government."
In a victory for the women's movement, the Supreme Court ruled 6 to 3 yesterday that person has an implied right to sue under a law intended to prevent sex discrimination by private educational institutions that get federal funds.
The ruling permits Geraldine G. Cannon, 43, of Northbrook, Ill., to press lawsuits accusing the University of Chicago and Northwestern University of turning her away from their medical schools solely because she is a woman.
In the opinion for the majority, Justice John Paul Stevens rejected the universities' contention that in enacting the 1972 education amendments to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Congress intended to entrust enforcement to the federal government.
The government had held that view until 1977, two years after Cannon sued, but then did an about-face to endorse her argument that the amendments, known as Title IX, implied the right of a private party to seek judicial relief from an alleged violation.
Except for jawboning, however, the only remedy available to the government was a cut-off in funding that would hurt the very students the law was intended to help. With that in mind, the Justice Department said in a Supreme Court brief: "If the broadly remedial purpose of Title IX is to be realized, enforcement should not be relegated entirely to federal agencies whose resources are necessarily limited."
In a strong dissent, Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. deplored a series of Supreme Court and federal appeals courts decisions in which, he said, the judiciary, by inferring what Congress did not say explicitly, has been assuming the legislative function in violation of the doctrine of the separation of powers.
In the Cannon case, Powell wrote, "respect for our constitutional system dictates that the issue should have been resolved by the elected representatives in Congress after public hearings, debate, and legislative decision. It is not a question properly to be decided by relatively uninformed federal judges who are isolated from the political process."
Relying on a 1975 Supreme Court decision, the appeals court have made at least 20 decisions implying private rights of action under various federal laws, Powell said.
"It defies reason to believe that in each of these statutues Congress absentmindedly forgot to mention an intended private action," Powell said.
For the majority, Stevens acknowledged that if Congress intends to permit private litigation to support statutory rights, "the far better course is for it to specify as much when it creates those rights."
At the same time, Stevens said, "the court has long recognized that under certain limited circumstances the failure of Congress to do so is not inconsistent with an intent on its part to have such a remedy available to the person benefitted by its legislation."
The opinion said that, "Title IX presents the atypical situation in which all of the circumstances that the court has previously identified as supportive of an implied remedy are present."
Two members of the majority Justices William H. Rehnquist and Potter Stewart, said in a separate opinion that Congress now is on notice "that the ball, so as to speak, may well now be in its court. . ." The Supreme Court "should be extremely reluctant" in the future to recognize a right of action unless the legislation specifically permits such action, they said.
A second dissenting opinion, written by Justice Byron R. White and signed by Justice Harry A. Blackmun, said that the legislative history of Title IX shows that Congress did not intend to create a new private cause of action.
White said that although Title IX was patterned after Title VI (which prohibits any federally funded program from discriminating against a person on account of race, color or national origin), the court properly could infer a right of private action under Title VI but not under Title IX.
Geraldine Cannon is a nurse at Skokie Valley Hospital, the wife of Chicago lawyer John M. Cannon, who represents her in the litigation, and the mother of five children aged 12 to 21.
Her lifelong dream of being a doctor was revived several years ago when, with her youngest child enrolled in elementary school, she became a full-time student at Trinity College.
Cannon was graduated cum laude from Trinity in 1975. By that time, eight medical schools had rejected her applications for admission. The University of Chicago and Northwestern have policies against admitting applicants over the age of 30, but Cannon concluded that the policy has an inordinate adverse effect on womem because many of them delay their education to be homemakers and mothers.