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CLCCRUL Praises U.S. Supreme Court’s Decision Upholding Important Legal Theory against Housing Discrimination

 June 25, 2015 – The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights enthusiastically applauds the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision upholding the disparate impact theory under the federal Fair Housing Act in the case Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project.  The decision reinforces that the Act makes illegal not only policies and practices intended to discriminate, but also policies and practices that are neutral on their faces but have discriminatory effects, or a disparate impact.  As Justice Kennedy said in the majority opinion, “Much progress remains to be made in our Nation’s continuing struggle against racial isolation,” and “The Court acknowledges the Fair Housing Act’s continuing role in moving the Nation toward a more integrated society.”  Click Here for the opinion

This decision was supported by 40 years of legal precedent and the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development’s authoritative 2013 regulation.  The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights (CLCCRUL) strongly advocated that the Court retain and affirm the legal theory to root out our city and country’s still entrenched racial and ethnic segregated living patterns. 

CLCCRUL Fair Housing Project Director Betsy Shuman-Moore was part of a national team that filed an amicus brief in the case stressing the great harms of residential segregation, the benefits of integration, and the continued need for the disparate impact theory to challenge actions and policies that create or perpetuate segregation.  We are proud to have played a role in supporting this major victory for equal opportunity in housing. The amicus brief is here.  CLC’s previous statement about the issue is here.  Contact Betsy Shuman-Moore at 312-630-9744 or bshuman-moore@clccrul.org for further information.

Below is a more detailed explanation about the case from the National Fair Housing Alliance:

What is this case about?

The Supreme Court’s upcoming ruling on the Fair Housing Act in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. will test our nation’s commitment to equal treatment under the law and will determine whether equal opportunity in housing continues to be one of our most cherished values.

The case focuses on Dallas, Texas, where the State of Texas approved the construction of affordable housing along racial lines. Over a period of years, a Texas housing agency reinforced residential segregation by consistently approving affordable housing in African American neighborhoods instead of fairly distributing that housing across all communities to promote integration.

Why is this case important?

Recent events in Ferguson and beyond demonstrate that our nation is at a pivotal time for racial justice. The decision in this case will not only profoundly impact the housing choices of millions of Americans of all backgrounds but it will also shape the fabric of the neighborhoods and communities in which we live for decades to come.

A full and effective Fair Housing Act is essential to ensure that every American has equal access to housing and is free from housing discrimination. When persons are denied equal access to housing, it reduces the availability of good jobs, quality education, safe streets, and a clean and healthy environment, all of which are central to the American Dream.

A decision in favor of the State of Texas in this case would eliminate a key protection under the Fair Housing Act and could re-open the door to housing policies and practices that exclude people based on their race, color, national origin, gender, religion, disability or familial status.

What is disparate impact and why am I hearing about it in this case?

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether to uphold a central legal protection under the Fair Housing Act which has been used for over four decades to address widespread discrimination in housing and has been unanimously endorsed by our nation's appellate courts. That protection, often referred to as the “disparate impact” standard, ensures that banks, landlords, and other housing providers use policies that apply fairly to all persons. Some policies that seem neutral in theory can exclude or segregate particular communities in practice. This protection under the Fair Housing Act allows us to recognize and prevent harmful and inequitable policies so that everyone is treated fairly. If the Supreme Court were to eliminate this protection, the following could happen:

  • An apartment complex could exclude applicants without full-time jobs. This bars people like disabled veterans or seniors who do not work full-time but can still afford an apartment.
  • A bank could charge an exorbitant deposit fee for those who seek home mortgage loans. With this high barrier, older Americans, veterans or persons of color with limited means would be forced to take on more risky and costly loans or not have access to financing at all.
  • An apartment building could restrict occupancy to one person per bedroom. Families with children would be barred from renting or would be forced to rent more costly multi-bedroom apartments.

What is the question in this case?

The Supreme Court is considering whether this key legal protection – that prohibits housing providers from using discriminatory policies when other options exist – will remain available to victims of housing discrimination under the Fair Housing Act.

What is the Fair Housing Act?

The Fair Housing Act protects Americans from discrimination in housing and the inequality that results from segregation. Under the Fair Housing Act, it is illegal to discriminate based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, or familial status.

The Fair Housing Act was passed by Congress with broad bipartisan support one week after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and it continues to enjoy support from elected officials on both sides of the political aisle. It is a key part of Dr. King’s civil rights legacy and remains one of the most crucial pieces of civil rights legislation for advancing racial equality in our history.

What is the history of this legal protection now being challenged?

There are 45 years of legal precedent – including rulings by 11 different appellate courts across the country – upholding this specific protection under the Fair Housing Act. When Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. was considered in the lower courts, both the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit relied on the disparate impact standard under the Fair Housing Act.

Originally adopted by the Nixon Administration as an enforcement tool, both Republican and Democratic Administrations have relied on the disparate impact standard over the last four decades to address widespread discrimination in housing.

Who is against longstanding fair housing protections?

The companies trying to dismantle the Fair Housing Act are some of the big banks and insurers that brought our economy to the brink of collapse just a few years ago, due largely to unlawful abuses and discrimination. The vested financial interest of these big corporations in removing common sense protections for Americans should not trump the national interest or the values of equal opportunity.

Recent Polling/Relevant Statistics

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that more than 3 million instances of housing discrimination occur each year. Many more instances are unreported.

The degree of residential segregation across our nation is staggering. According to U.S. Census estimates, 75% of African American families nationwide reside in just 16% of the Census tracts. According to the most recent Census, “[d]espite [some] declines, residential segregation was still higher for African Americans than for the other groups across all measures.” Segregation levels among Latinos and Asian Americans have remained constant since 1980, with these communities residing in even more isolated and homogeneous enclaves now than they did in 2000, continuing a trend visible since 1980.