Supreme Court Backs “Disparate Impact” Claims and Strengthens Fair Housing Act

On June 25 2015, the Supreme Court ruled on the issue of whether or not claims of “disparate impact” could be made under the Fair Housing Act.

Ultimately, the court upheld the right to make claims under the Fair Housing Act against unintentionally discriminatory practices that produce unequal outcomes. This means that claimants only have to prove that a practice has a discriminatory affect, not that the practice itself is designed to be discriminatory.

This decision strengthens the Fair Housing Act as a tool to fight neighborhood segregation. The case was brought against the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, due to their higher distribution of housing credits in predominantly African-American, inner-city neighborhoods, with few credits available in majority-White, suburban neighborhoods. This had the effect of creating segregated housing patterns, even though the policy was not designed to do so. The Fair Housing Act can now be used to fight policies, like those in Texas, that unintentionally create disparate impacts.

The decision centered on the use of the phrase, “make [housing] otherwise unavailable,” in order to refer to the outcome of a practice, rather than simply the design or intention of the practice itself. The court was split 5-4 in its decision, with Justice Kennedy writing the opinion of the court. He was joined in his opinion by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Stephen Breyer.

Click here to read the decision.