Supreme Court Continues to Scrutinize Civil-Rights Acts

By Sheryl Estrada


Civil-rights laws of the 1960s continue to be scrutinized by the Supreme Court under the direction of Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative.

On Wednesday, the Fair Housing Act of 1968 will be under a judicial microscope. The high court will consider whether a decision by Dallas officials to make most federal low-income housing vouchers available in poor, Black neighborhoodsviolates the act.

Dallas-based Inclusive Communities sued the Texas Department of Housing and Community Development in 2008, arguing the agency kept poor, Black residents from moving into predominantly white areas through its federal-tax-credits system.

Inclusive Communites argued that in the previous decade, the agency more readily awarded tax credits for low-income housing areas, which were poor and Black.

The advocacy group could not prove intentional bias by Texas officials. However, a federal appeals court declared it could utilize statistics to show the policies are in violation of the Fair Housing Act because they harmed Blacks.

After the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied the State of Texas’ appeal that the suit should be barred if theadvocacygroupcan’t prove policies were intentionally targeting Blacks, thecase was sent back to Dallas. Then, Texas brought it to the Supreme Court.

The SCOTUS decision will greatly affect any future cases on housingdiscrimination.

“I don’t think we can kid ourselves that the court is not aggressively interested in this issue,” saidSherrilyn Ifill, President of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

In 2013, the Supreme Court was also aggressively interested in scaling back the Voting Rights Act of 1965. InShelby County v. Holder, the court’s 5-4 decision invalidated a crucial part of the act; in the majority wereRoberts along with the other conservative members of the court.

The act coversAlabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia and parts of seven other states.The decision means these states can change their election laws without advance approval of the U.S. attorney general or federal judges.

The court mainly based its ruling on a 2006 formula that Congress passed to determine which areas are covered by the act.

Roberts wrote for the majority:”[Congress] reenacted a formula based on 40-year-old facts having no logical relation to the present day. Our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.”

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was “deeply disappointed” by the decision.

According to The New York Times, in her dissent, Justice Ruth BaderGinsburg wrote:

“For a half century a concerted effort has been made to end racial discrimination in voting. Thanks to the Voting Rights Act, progress once the subject of a dream has been achieved and continues to be made.

“The court errs egregiously,” she concluded, “by overriding Congress’s decision.”

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