481 U. S. 604
May 18, 1987
After being denied tenure at St. Francis College, Al-Khazraji filed a slew of actions which alleged discrimination. Only a section 1981 action charging racial discrimination survived. The college argued that, as an Arab, Al-Khazraji was technically “white,” and thus could not properly be the subject of racial discrimination.
Unanimously, the Court held that an Arab could bring a section 1981 claim. Justice White first turned back a jurisdiction challenge based on the contention that the statute of limitations had run. It had, but when Al-Khazraji had originally filed, the statute of limitations was mistakenly thought by courts to be longer. In the interest of fairness, White said that the suit could go ahead. Moving on to the merits, he said that race was a different concept when section 1981 was passed in the 1800s. Turning to the original Congressional debates, White proved that Arabs could be considered a racial minority within the meaning of the statute. Brennan wrote a concurrence to point out how similar ‘race’ was to the concept of national origin under this interpretation of section 1981.