by Orson Aguilar
The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision striking a blow against housing discrimination is a significant civil rights victory. This keeps open an important path to closing the growing racial wealth gap, which is fueled by discriminatory housing laws and policies.
In Texas Department of Housing v. Inclusive Communities Project, the court held that what are called “disparate impact” claims are valid under the federal Fair Housing Act. In plain English, that means that if the real-world effect of a housing policy or law is discriminatory, you don’t have to prove that anyone intended to discriminate.
That’s key here, because intent can be difficult, even impossible, to prove. You often can’t know someone’s state of mind. But real-life impacts are easy to see. Had the ruling gone the other way, it not only would have overturned decades of settled law, it would have made it much, much harder to fight housing discrimination.
This ruling allows families whatever they look like to have an equal opportunity to seek a home and fair treatment in any neighborhood. And it helps all of us to reach our full potential in this diverse nation. Researchers from Harvard and University of California, Berkeley have found that lower- and middle-income families who live in more segregated communities have a harder time climbing the economic ladder than families in more integrated neighborhoods.
Justice Anthony Kennedy zeroed in on the essential point in his majority opinion, writing that “since the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968 and against the backdrop of disparate-impact liability in nearly every jurisdiction, many cities have become more diverse. The Fair Housing Act must play an important part in avoiding the Kerner Commission’s grim prophecy that ‘our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white separate and unequal.'”
While this case specifically focused on the Fair Housing Act, we shouldn’t forget that similar wording appears in other civil rights laws. A ruling tossing out disparate-impact claims under this act might have imperiled a whole array of civil rights protections.
As President Barack Obama recently stated, you don’t necessary have to say the N-word to be a racist. The Supreme Court’s decision allows us to fight more subtle forms of racism.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Orson Aguilar is executive director of The Greenlining Institute,http://greenlining.org. He wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine. Readers may write to the author at: Progressive Media Project, 409 East Main Street, Madison, Wis. 53703; email: email@example.com; Web site:http://www.progressive.org. For information on PMP’s funding, please visit http://www.progressive.org/pmpabout.html#anchorsupport.