Jan 06

Attorney John Shoemaker sends us:


Update on Disparate Impact fight set for oral argument 1/21/2015 before the US Supreme Court in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project.



Symposium: The case for disparate impact under the Fair Housing Act

Joe Rich and Thomas Silverstein are attorneys at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, which filed an amicus brief in support of the respondent, Inclusive Communities Project.

A decision from the Supreme Court upholding the use of the disparate impact standard to enforce the Act will preserve long-settled expectations and avoid upending decades of settled case law, an untenable outcome that would absolve actors who have known for decades that they are liable under the Act for actions with significant, unjustified disparate impact.

“The text of the FHA is likely to be the primary focus of the Court. On its face, the statutory language strongly supports the conclusion, uniformly accepted in the lower courts for nearly four decades, that the Act authorizes disparate impact claims.

[Will Justice Scalia give deference to HUD’s interpretation of the Fair Housing Act?]

“Even if the Court concludes that the text of the Act does not conclusively support recognition of disparate impact claims, the language is, at a minimum, ambiguous. Indeed, in the wake of decades of consistent judicial interpretation supporting the disparate impact standard, it is hard to imagine how the Court could conclude that the language of the Act is unambiguously limited to disparate treatment claims.  The Court made clear in Chevron, U.S.A., Inc. v. NRDC, Inc., that when a statute “is silent or ambiguous with respect to the specific issue, the question for the court is whether the agency’s answer is based on a permissible construction of the statute.” The agency has the power to “fill any gap left, implicitly or explicitly by Congress.” Under Chevron, the Court ordinarily defers to an administering agency’s reasonable statutory interpretation, and Justice Antonin Scalia gave such deference to the EEOC’s interpretation of the ADEA in his concurring opinion in Smith.

“Texas agrees — it argued in the Fifth Circuit in this case that HUD’s interpretation of the FHA should be afforded Chevron deference, and it prevailed when that court adopted HUD’s three-part burden-shifting approach for disparate impact claims under the Act. It is more than a bit ironic that Texas, which was victorious in the Fifth Circuit and yet sought Supreme Court review, now abandons this position.

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