A Young Lawyer Wins an Educational Equity Case

The efforts of Edward Steinman, on behalf of Chinese children in San Francisco, would transform bilingual education in the United States.

September 2023

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A Young Lawyer Wins an Educational Equity Case

SCHOOL REFORM: Until Lau v. Nichols established their right to bilingual education, Chinese children learned English at the Immigrants Development Center of San Francisco. Photo: San Francisco History Center/San Francisco Public Library

Edward Steinman, LLB ’68, was just 25 years old when he filed a lawsuit that would transform bilingual education in the United States. In Lau v. Nichols, he represented Chinese-speaking students in San Francisco, about 1,800 of whom were receiving neither supplemental instruction in the English language nor adequate alternative instruction in Chinese. Steinman lost at the district court and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, although 9th Circuit Judge Shirley Hufstedler, LLB ’49, noted the students’ lack of equal opportunity in arguing that the entire circuit should rehear the case. In January 1974, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of the Chinese students, finding that the San Francisco Unified School District had violated the 1964 Civil Rights Act and that “there is no equality of treatment merely by providing students with the same facilities, textbooks, teachers, and curriculum.”

SteinmanSteinman. (Photo: Wondie Russel)

Before Lau, “you had this notion of inequality as taking people who are the same and treating them differently—that’s the Brown v. Board of Education case,” says Steinman, a professor emeritus at Santa Clara University School of Law. “But there’s another kind of inequality that’s more subtle, which is taking people who are different and treating them the same.”

Rebecca Beyer is a Boston-area journalist. Email her at stanford.magazine@stanford.edu.

Vintage 1973 Collection

Stanford is 50! It turns out we’re not the only one. Walk with us down memory lane as we sample some of the wonders and horrors of the 1973–74 academic year on the Farm, and in the world around.

Start the Presses

Were Golden

89 Rodins Find a New Home

A Godfather Delivers a Ransom Payment

A Splashy Debut

The Winds of Freedom

SLE Club

‘Until the Birds Took Over the Singing’

The Poet and the Coup

Steps Toward Saving Salamanders Are Set in Motion

A Sequel for Supersonic Flight?

The First Stanford Astronaut Returns from Space

The End of the Nursing Education Era

Keepers of the Flame

50 Years After the Stanford Murders, Three of Four Families Have Answers

A Classic Is Released

A Young Lawyer Wins an Educational Equity Case

Joining the Force


The Axe Is Stolen One Last Time

Fit to Be Tried

For Commencement Speaker, a Watergate Special Prosecutor

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