As the celebrations over the U.S. Supreme Court decision in King v. Burwell (which upheld the Affordable Care Act [again]) and their decision in Obergefell v. Hodges (which found same-sex marriage bans to be unconstitutional) begin settle down, it’s worth looking at a third case they decided this week that should have progressives applauding. This one, Texas Department of Housing & Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. involved fair housing practices:
Civil rights groups won a victory Thursday, as the Supreme Court ruled that claims of racial discrimination in housing cases shouldn’t be limited by questions of intent.
The court affirmed a Court of Appeals decision in a case in which a nonprofit group, the Inclusive Communities Project, said that the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs had contributed to “segregated housing patterns by allocating too many tax credits to housing in predominantly black inner-city areas and too few in predominantly white suburban neighborhoods.”
The 5-4 ruling endorses the notion of citing disparate impact in housing cases, meaning that statistics and other evidence can be used to show decisions and practices have discriminatory effects — without proving that they’re the result of discriminatory intentions.
At its core the decision says that unintended negative impacts of laws or policies that impact one group unfairly, are not permissible even if the impact is not intentional. The impact on fair housing for poor people in this country will likely be profound. As U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch put it, “While our nation has made tremendous progress since the Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968, disparate impact claims remain an all-too-necessary mechanism for rooting out discrimination in housing and lending.”
The implications for Michigan in this ruling have the potential to be huge. We have two situations ongoing in our state that are disparately impacting African Americans: our anti-democratic Emergency Manager Law and the Education Achievement Authority. Both of these items are disparately impacting black people in our state though they are not specifically written to target minority populations. Particularly in the case of our Emergency Manager Law where local democracy is being stripped in order to make it easier for a state-appointed overseer to make changes, the SCOTUS fair housing decision may pave the way for a more robust legal challenge now that the Court has acknowledged that disparate-yet-unintended impact is essentially equivalent to intentional discrimination.
It was a good week for progressives in the United States of America and this decision should not be forgotten in the hoopla over marriage equality and Obamacare, especially here in Michigan.
[Photo by Anne C. Savage, special to Eclectablog]