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Thursday, October 31, 2013
In Township of Mount Holly v. Mount Holly Gardens Citizens in Action, Inc., the Township of Mount Holly declared Mount Holly Gardens, the Township’s only neighborhood predominantly occupied by African Americans and Latinos, blighted and in need of rehabilitation. The Township developed a plan to demolish all of the homes in the Gardens without providing adequate affordable housing for the displaced residents, leading the residents to challenge this plan based on a “disparate impact” claim of discrimination, defined as government or private actors unjustifiably pursuing practices that have a disproportionately harmful effect on communities of color and other groups protected by the Fair Housing Act. Thus, the disparate-impact standard allows plaintiffs to challenge policies that are neutral on their faces but have the effect of discriminating against members of protected classes for no justifiable reason. Now, in Mount Holly, the Supreme Court will decide whether the well-established “disparate impact” claim is available under the Fair Housing Act.
On October 28, 2013, LDF filed an amicus brief in support of Respondents (plaintiffs below) and the disparate-impact standard. LDF argued that, much like in this case, “urban renewal” and rehabilitation plans have historically unfairly targeted neighborhoods where people of color predominate, and disparate-impact claims are a mechanism through which residents of those neighborhoods can challenge those plans. LDF also defended the disparate-impact standard as a proven, effective and workable way for courts to separate those policies and practices that are necessary to further legitimate, non-discriminatory interests from those that are unnecessary and unjustifiably discriminate against protected classes. LDF was not alone in arguing in defense of the disparate-impact standard—other civil rights and fair housing advocates, social scientists, historians, members of Congress, and former HUD officials were among those who filed briefs in support of the Respondents and urged the Court to endorse the standard. Those briefs are available here.
The parties reached a settlement agreement before the Supreme Court heard oral argument in this case. The case was dismissed on November 15, 2013.