Elizabeth Julian, head of the Inclusive Communities Project in Dallas, left the U.S. Supreme Court this morning feeling optimistic about the future course of a case that could dramatically change how the U.S. Fair Housing Act is applied.
The court heard oral arguments this morning in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, in which the state is fighting to overturn the doctrine of "disparate impact," which outlaws policies that are racist in their effect even if policymakers didn't intend them to be.
"We felt very good," Julian told Unfair Park from Washington this morning. "The court seemed to understand that this has been the law for 40 years." Questions from the justices focused on the history of the Fair Housing Act and disparate impact, and the justices appeared concerned that Texas was asking them to overturn decades years of precedent, she said.
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ICP sued the Texas Department of Housing and Community Development in 2008, claiming that the way the agency awarded tax credits for low-income housing kept poor black people out of white neighborhoods in Dallas.
The Supreme Court had agreed to take up two earlier cases challenging disparate impact, but those cases were settled before they reached the court. Julian said the state was not interested in settling this one, though. "They seemed hellbent to take this to the Supreme Court and knock out disparate impact nationwide."
Speculation from both the left and right was that the conservative-leaning court of Chief Justice John Roberts was lining up to take away a tool frequently relied on by anti-discrimination groups. Some feared that if the court struck down disparate impact under the Fair Housing Act, its use in other areas of law could be challenged -- for instance, in cases against credit practices that lead to higher interest rates for minorities.
"There were dire predictions that if they rule on disparate impact here, it would have a ripple effect," Julian said, but ICP's case is limited to its use under the Fair Housing Act.