“Stop calling it fair housing…”

…There’s nothing fair about it. I’ve got a post at Cato about yesterday’s important Supreme Court victory for the Left in which Justice Anthony Kennedy joined the four liberals to hold that current federal law allows housing suits based on “disparate impact” theories. I explain why pundits are being silly when they claim that the Court “saved” the Fair Housing Act or that a contrary ruling would have “gutted” it, and why Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas were right in their dissents to spotlight the shaky basis of the theory in the statutory text, going back to the original disparate-impact case, Griggs v. Duke Power.

True, Kennedy did throw a sop or two about how courts applying disparate impact need to avoid pressuring actors toward the potentially unconstitutional result of quotas. Although some consider these bits of wording significant, I suspect that will mean about as much as similar sops that the Court has thrown over the years about avoiding quotas in employment and education, i.e., not much. Others, such as Cory Andrews of WLF, point to Kennedy language suggesting (on what statutory basis is not entirely clear) that disparate impact scrutiny might be limited to “artificial, arbitrary, and unnecessary” practices, a narrowness of approach not seen in other disparate-impact contexts. How administrable such a standard might prove, or how much litigation will be needed before it is clarified, is anyone’s guess.

Some further background on Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project: SCOTUSBlog, Cato’s brief in the case and earlier coverage by Ilya Shapiro and company here and here, and my podcast.


  • The reasoning is easy to understand: The judges think that these aren’t laws or guidelines, but rather justifications for punishments that will be applied to Bad People. It’s assumed that everyone will ignore this ruling except when some nefarious evildoer needs to be hammered; *certainly* you wouldn’t have people actually try to *comply* with the implications of this ruling, right?

  • State and local governments incur liability if they spend Federal money to upgrade housing in troubled minority neighborhoods, or if they upgrade housing anywhere without rigorously vetted quota plans in place. Many governments will find it prudent to shut down all government housing development.

    Perhaps it will be necessary to restart frozen government housing development with “full faith and credit” Federal guarantees that specific projects will not be cited in “disparate impact” lawsuits.

  • […] “Every state county or municipality…should think long and hard before taking a dime in HUD money.” [Richard Epstein, Hoover “Defining Ideas”, “The Folly of ‘Fair’ Housing”] “Confusion and uncertainty” in housing sector as to what disparate impact liability actually will mean, after Supreme Court ruling [Hans Bader, CEI; earlier] […]