Tenants Together welcomes the decision of the United States Supreme Court today upholding disparate impact claims under the Fair Housing Act. As a result of this decision, advocates can continue to challenge housing policies that have a discriminatory impact, regardless of whether there was discriminatory intent. The case is Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project.
The decision comes as a surprise to many advocates. The Supreme Court has become increasingly hostile to social and economic justice in recent years. The Supreme Court’s initial decision to review the case signaled that at least four of the nine justices intended to overturn longstanding precedent and weaken the Fair Housing Act.
The protests in Ferguson, Baltimore, and the Black Lives Matter movement may have tipped the scales in this case. Justice Kennedy, the swing vote, was not willing to take the radical step of striking down one of the most powerful parts of our nation’s anti-segregation laws. Four justices – Roberts, Alito, Thomas and Scalia – favored eliminating disparate impact claims. Justice Kennedy sided with Justices Ginsberg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, in the opinion.
Federal fair housing law protect against discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, disability, sex, familial status, or national origin. Nonetheless, discrimination in rental housing remains rampant in California and nationwide. For example, a 2011 study by Fair Housing of Marin found that in 80% of the tests in Richmond, CA and in 68% of the tests in Sonoma County, CA, landlords showed preferential treatment to Caucasian over African-American prospective renters.
Tenants Together urges federal, state and local authorities to step up enforcement against housing discrimination, particularly in light of today’s Supreme Court ruling.