The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

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The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments in Fair Housing Case

January 22, 2015 - Posted by Julie Faust

On January 21, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Texas Department of Housing vs. The Inclusive Communities Project, a case that will either uphold or strike down a crucial tenet of the Fair Housing Act – at a time when the U.S. housing market remains intensely segregated.

The Fair Housing Act, passed by Congress in the days following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, makes it illegal to refuse to rent, sell, or otherwise make unavailable a property to anyone because of race, religion, national origin, gender, or disability status. The Fair Housing Act has helped protect Americans from housing discrimination for more than 40 years, and has been crucial in combatting practices that contribute to present-day segregation.

The part of the law in question is known as “disparate impact,” and affirms that discriminatory housing policies and practices that harm minorities are illegal, regardless of whether or not the policy has a discriminatory intent. Over the past 40 years, every one of the 11 federal appeals courts to consider the question has ruled that the Fair Housing Act covers disparate impact claims. In 2013, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development issued a regulation explicitly covering the principle.

During oral argument, Justice Antonin Scalia noted to the Texas Solicitor General that the Court must read the Fair Housing Act as a coherent law, including the original 1968 law and the 1988 amendments. By doing so, Scalia concluded “I find it hard to read those two together in any other way than [that] there is such a thing as disparate impact.”

“The Fair Housing Act is one of our nation’s bedrock civil rights laws and any rollback to its protections would be disastrous for our neighborhoods and communities,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “With residential segregation on the rise, a strong Fair Housing Act is as important now as it has been in the past. Robust and effective fair housing laws are a vital tool for ensuring equal opportunity. That’s why the Court should reject any attempt to weaken vital housing protections for families and communities.”

The Court is expected to release its decision by the end of June.

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