The NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) is incredibly pleased that the United States Supreme Court today has reaffirmed core principles of fairness and equality by clearly and unambiguously recognizing both the legality and the importance of the “disparate impact” protections of the Fair Housing Act in addressing housing discrimination.
The Supreme Court’s ruling in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project means that disparate impact protections remain an effective and enduring part of the Fair Housing Act, thus upholding forty-five years of legal precedent, including rulings by 11 different federal courts of appeal. Today’s decision acknowledges our country’s commitment to equal treatment under the law and confirms that equal opportunity in housing for all Americans is one of our most cherished values. As the Court held “[the] FHA must play an important part in avoiding the Kerner Commission’s grim prophecy that ‘[o]ur Nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and un-equal.’ The Court acknowledges the Fair Housing Act’s continuing role in moving the Nation toward a more integrated society.”
Congress passed the Fair Housing Act with broad bipartisan support in 1968 in the wake of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. The last of the momentous civil rights laws of the 1960’s, the Fair Housing Act was a national commitment to eradicate not only intentional housing discrimination, but also entrenched patterns of residential segregation caused by decades of government-sponsored policies such as racially restrictive covenants, redlining in lending, and racially exclusionary zoning.
The disparate impact standard is one of the Fair Housing Act’s key enforcement tools. It prohibits any housing policy that unfairly excludes people on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, disability, or family status when the policy is unnecessary to serve legitimate interests, even if it seems neutral on its face. This standard has long proven essential in screening out discriminatory practices such as those at issue in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project. In this case, a Dallas civil rights organization used disparate impact to challenge Texas’s policy of exclusively placing low-income housing in African-American neighborhoods, thereby reinforcing existing racial segregation instead of fairly distributing such housing across all communities.
Today’s decision highlights the continued importance of the disparate impact standard in eradicating residential segregation and its devastating consequences. Decades of government-supported segregation has caused pervasive present-day harms for communities of color, including limited social and economic mobility, reduced educational opportunity, and impaired public health. These harms have been highlighted in recent incidences in Ferguson, Baltimore and countless other American cities where deeply entrenched segregation has implications for quality public schools, job opportunities, police/community relations and the composition of our civic institutions. The disparate impact standard is also a key pillar in our nation’s civil rights architecture and today’s decision reaffirms its vitality.
“Housing is the most critical foundation for individuals and families seeking reassurances that the American Dream is within reach for everyone no matter what they happen to look like or wherever they live,” said LDF’s President and Director-Counsel Sherrilyn Ifill. “Housing also represents opportunity and mobility and the Court’s ruling keeps the original spirit of fair housing guarantees intact. Today’s ruling signals a continuing commitment to equality will benefit future generations to come.”
Now more than ever, it is vital that we focus on federal civil rights enforcement and accountability to promote more inclusive, prosperous communities. One need look only at our nations most divided cities and suburbs to understand that we must continue to forcefully combat the myriad forces contributing to the entrenched segregation and concentration of poverty still rampant throughout our urban areas.
LDF will continue to fight for fair housing, recognizing that the very legitimacy of our democracy depends on ensuring that the doors of opportunity are open to all. We look forward to working with housing providers as well as cities, towns, and communities around the country to protect housing choice and eliminate housing discrimination. LDF also calls on the Obama Administration to redouble its efforts to implement these crucial civil rights protections for all Americans.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is not a part of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) although LDF was founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. Since 1957, LDF has been a completely separate organization. Please refer to us in media attributions as the “NAACP Legal Defense Fund” or “LDF”.