SACRAMENTO --- Attorney General Kamala D. Harris has joined 11 other state attorneys general in filing a friend-of-the-court brief in the U.S. Supreme Court urging the court in Magner v. Gallagher to rule that federal anti-discrimination law can be enforced in cases where a housing or mortgage policy appears neutral on its surface but has a discriminatory effect.
“Segregation in housing and barriers to equal opportunity remain a great concern for communities throughout the country. Disparate impact causes of action are needed to respond to contemporary forms of bias and to eliminate practices and policies that perpetuate segregated housing patterns,” the amicus brief states.
This case involves a policy of the City of St. Paul, Minnesota to remedy “problem properties” by targeting low-income renter-occupied properties for housing-code violations, condemnations and evictions. In 2004 and 2005, a group of current and former owners of rental properties challenged the city’s policy, contending that these practices had a disproportionate impact on racial and ethnic minorities and, in particular, African Americans. African Americans made up 60 to 70 percent of the city’s low-income renters, while they made up approximately 12 percent of the population of St. Paul.
“For more than four decades, the Fair Housing Act has been a key tool for rooting out discrimination in housing and residential financing,” Attorney General Harris said. “Minority homeowners and renters in California, who have been disproportionately impacted by the housing and mortgage crisis, deserve access to housing without facing discrimination and other deceptive practices.”
The plaintiffs challenged the city’s policy in federal court under the Fair Housing Act, which is part of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of dwellings, based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status and disability. In 2010, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled that housing policies that disproportionately impact protected groups violate the Fair Housing Act and are subject to disparate-impact scrutiny. The City appealed that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which will hear oral arguments in the matter in February 2012.
A bipartisan group of attorneys general joining California in this brief represent Arizona, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Utah and West Virginia.
A copy of the amicus brief is attached to the online version of this release at www.oag.ca.gov.