Supreme Court Issues Ruling on Fair Housing Act

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling today upholding disparate impact claims under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). The ruling has significant ramifications on the interpretation of discrimination under the FHA, and on local housing policies and zoning laws.

The case, Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, arose from a law suit brought by a Texas nonprofit that advocates for housing low-income families against the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. The issue centered on how the department distributes tax credits for low-income housing.

As reported in The Washington Post:

In the 5-4 decision written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court ruled that the 1968 Fair Housing Act doesn’t solely ban overt discrimination in the housing market. The court said the law can also prohibit seemingly race-neutral policies that have the effect of disproportionately harming minorities and other protected groups, even if there is no overt evidence of bias behind them.

“The Court acknowledges,” Kennedy wrote, “the Fair Housing Act’s continuing role in moving the Nation toward a more integrated society.”

The decision upholds a legal strategy that civil rights groups and the federal government have used for four decades to fight lending practices, local housing policies and zoning laws that have had the effect of limiting housing options available to minorities. Lower courts have repeatedly agreed that the Fair Housing Act allows such “disparate impact” claims, but the Supreme Court had not weighed in on the question until now.

Analysis of the ruling and on disparate impact can be found on the Scotus Blog:

Although it has always been clear that the Act outlawed housing discrimination when the landlord, developer, or government agency acted with the specific intent to discriminate, a question has lingered whether the law also allowed claims of “disparate impact” — that is, claims that a given housing policy or decision had a more negative impact on race (or other protected categories) than on others seeking housing, even though there was no proof of an intent to discriminate.

Every federal appeals court that had ruled on the issue had upheld such “disparate impact” claims, and Congress was aware of that when it amended the Act in 1988 without changing its basic terms.  That fact figured importantly in Thursday’s decision, with the Court majority concluding that Congress accepted that such claims were valid under the law, and did nothing to bar them.

For more information read the full article in The Washington Post and on Scotus Blog.

Previous coverage on Conduit Street: Supreme Court Hears Case Concerning Fair Housing Act