US Supreme Court Decision Upholds Use of Disparate Impact in Fair Housing Cases

The Supreme Court ruled today to uphold a key tool used for more than four decades to fight housing discrimination.The justices ruled 5-4 that the Fair Housing Act prohibits seemingly neutral practices that harm minorities, even without proof of intent that policies segregate minorities in poor neighborhoods and even if they do so unintentionally. 

Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy stated that language in the housing law bans discrimination "because of race" includes disparate impact cases. Such lawsuits allow plaintiffs "to counteract unconscious prejudices and disguised animus that escape easy classification" under traditional legal theories." "In this way disparate-impact liability may prevent segregated housing patterns that might otherwise result from covert and illicit stereotyping," Kennedy said.  Such “disparate-impact claims”can be brought under the Fair Housing Act but the court warned against remedies that impose outright racial quotas, a sign that disparate-impact claims must be brought cautiously.

The case involved an appeal from Texas officials accused of violating the Fair Housing Act by awarding federal tax credits in a way that kept low-income housing out of white neighborhoods. Read the full decision here.

See full New York Times article here
The Atlantic also published this feature article on the case and its context.