Amicus Brief for Magner v. Gallagher

In an amicus filed in the case Magner v. Gallagher, LatinoJustice joined the Lawyers’ Committee For Civil Rights Under Law, the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights, Equal Rights Center and several other national civil rights organizations in urging the Supreme Court to find that the Fair Housing Act is properly interpreted to authorize disparate impact claims.

The text of the Fair Housing Act supports the conclusion-- uniformly accepted in the lower courts for nearly four decades-- that the Act authorizes pursuit of disparate-impact claims. The Act includes language focusing on the effects of a particular policy or practice. That language reflects congressional intent to combat not only intentional discrimination, but also actions that have unnecessary disparate effects on protected groups.

Residential segregation is a persistent problem across the United States, and application of a disparate-impact test under the Fair Housing Act has been a very important force in promoting the integration of our communities. Limiting the Act to cases in which it is possible to prove that discriminatory intent was the cause of a given exclusionary policy or practice would mean that it would lose a substantial part of its effectiveness.

LatinoJustice, the Lawyers’ Committee, six of its affiliates and eighteen other civil rights organizations submitted a comment letter in full support of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s proposed regulation establishing that violations of the Fair Housing Act may be proved through a disparate impact analysis. HUD’s proposed regulation is a very important and necessary step in ensuring that the nation’s housing is available to all, regardless of protected class status. In view of t he Supreme Court’s review of this important issue, HUD’s formalizing its long and consistent interpretation of the Act strengthens the argument that the Court should follow the consistent determination of HUD and all courts of appeals.

The City of St. Paul, the petitioner in Magner v. Gallagher, withdrew its petition in early February 2012, less than three weeks before the oral argument.

The Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to refuse to sell or rent to any person on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or nationality. Magner would have been the first case where the Court would decide if plaintiffs could bring a claim for “disparate impact” discrimination under the legislation. To prove disparate impact, the plaintiffs don’t have to show that there was intent to discriminate but only that discrimination was the result of a “neutral policy.” Civil rights and low income housing advocates who praised the city’s decision to withdraw the petition were worried about the “collateral damage” that could result if the Supreme Court sided with the city and said disparate impact claims could not be brought under the Fair Housing Act.

That decision could have impacted the ability of future plaintiffs who were rightly discriminated against to make a similar argument. The case will now go back to federal court for a trial on the merits before U.S. District Court Chief Judge Michael Davis.

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