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Court Refuses to Extend Law to Protect Non-Citizens from Private Bias

March 26, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court today refused to extend a key civil rights law to protect non-citizens from private, as well as governmental, bias.

The court, over two dissenting votes, let stand a ruling that the First National Bank of Commerce in New Orleans did not discriminate illegally against Jeetendra Bhandari when it denied his application for a bank credit card because he is not a U.S. citizen.

Justices Byron R. White and Sandra Day O’Connor voted to hear arguments in the case, but four votes are needed to grant such review.

Today’s action does not set a national precedent, but merely leaves intact a federal appeals court ruling that has become binding law in three states - Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, by a 7-6 vote, ruled that federal law does not protect aliens from such discriminatory treatment.

Bhandari, a native of India, is a permanent, legal resident of this country. He worked as an accountant in New Orleans before recently moving to Dallas.

In 1983, he applied for a VISA Card with First National but was denied one. He was told his application had been denied because he is not a U.S. citizen.

Bhandari sued the bank in 1984, invoking a Civil War era law most often used these days to battle private bias against racial minorities. It says that ″all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall have the same right ... to the full and equal benefits of all laws.″

The Supreme Court previously has ruled that the law, the Civil Rights Act of 1866, protects racial minorities from private and governmental bias.

The court also has ruled that the law protects aliens from governmental bias. But the justices never have ruled specifically on whether the law may be used to fight private, non-governmental, discrimination against aliens.

The 5th Circuit court, ruling in 1987, drew a distinction between private discrimination based on race and nationality.

″Racial and citizenship distinctions are things of a different kind. The former is, for the individual, immutable; the latter is not,″ the appeals court said. ″While the alien guest is not without his own special claims upon us, arising from our moral tradition, they are o a different quality from those grounded in our common humanity.″

The justices last June 26 set aside the ruling in Bhandari’s case, and ordered the appeals court to restudy it in light of their decision reaffirming that the 1866 law protects racial minorities from private bias.

After undertaking that restudy, the appeals court last Nov. 2 reached the same conclusion and reinstated its 1987 ruling.

The case is Bhandari vs. First National Bank of Commerce, 89-1258.

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