January 21, 2015 – The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments today in the important case Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (No. 13-1371). The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights (CLC) strongly advocates that the Court retain the well-established disparate impact, or discriminatory effects, legal theory to root out our city and country’s still entrenched racial and ethnic segregated living patterns. CLC Fair Housing Project Director Betsy Shuman-Moore has been part of a national team that filed an amicus brief in the case, stressing the great harms of residential segregation, the benefits of integration, and the continued need for the disparate impact theory to challenge actions and policies that create or perpetuate segregation. The amicus brief is here. CLC’s previous statement about the issue is here. Contact Betsy Shuman-Moore at 312-630-9744 or firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.
Below is a more detailed explanation about the case from the National Fair Housing Alliance of which CLC is a member. http://www.nationalfairhousing.org/Portals/33/FairHousingMediaKit.pdf
What is this case about?
The Supreme Court’s upcoming ruling on the Fair Housing Act in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. will test our nation’s commitment to equal treatment under the law and will determine whether equal opportunity in housing continues to be one of our most cherished values.
The case focuses on Dallas, Texas, where the State of Texas approved the construction of affordable housing along racial lines. Over a period of years, a Texas housing agency reinforced residential segregation by consistently approving affordable housing in African American neighborhoods instead of fairly distributing that housing across all communities to promote integration.
Why is this case important?
Recent events in Ferguson and beyond demonstrate that our nation is at a pivotal time for racial justice. The decision in this case will not only profoundly impact the housing choices of millions of Americans of all backgrounds but it will also shape the fabric of the neighborhoods and communities in which we live for decades to come.
A full and effective Fair Housing Act is essential to ensure that every American has equal access to housing and is free from housing discrimination. When persons are denied equal access to housing, it reduces the availability of good jobs, quality education, safe streets, and a clean and healthy environment, all of which are central to the American Dream.
A decision in favor of the State of Texas in this case would eliminate a key protection under the Fair Housing Act and could re-open the door to housing policies and practices that exclude people based on their race, color, national origin, gender, religion, disability or familial status.
What is disparate impact and why am I hearing about it in this case?
The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether to uphold a central legal protection under the Fair Housing Act which has been used for over four decades to address widespread discrimination in housing and has been unanimously endorsed by our nation's appellate courts. That protection, often referred to as the “disparate impact” standard, ensures that banks, landlords, and other housing providers use policies that apply fairly to all persons. Some policies that seem neutral in theory can exclude or segregate particular communities in practice. This protection under the Fair Housing Act allows us to recognize and prevent harmful and inequitable policies so that everyone is treated fairly. If the Supreme Court were to eliminate this protection, the following could happen:
What is the question in this case?
The Supreme Court is considering whether this key legal protection – that prohibits housing providers from using discriminatory policies when other options exist – will remain available to victims of housing discrimination under the Fair Housing Act.
What is the Fair Housing Act?
The Fair Housing Act protects Americans from discrimination in housing and the inequality that results from segregation. Under the Fair Housing Act, it is illegal to discriminate based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, or familial status.
The Fair Housing Act was passed by Congress with broad bipartisan support one week after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and it continues to enjoy support from elected officials on both sides of the political aisle. It is a key part of Dr. King’s civil rights legacy and remains one of the most crucial pieces of civil rights legislation for advancing racial equality in our history.
What is the history of this legal protection now being challenged?
There are 45 years of legal precedent – including rulings by 11 different appellate courts across the country – upholding this specific protection under the Fair Housing Act. When Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. was considered in the lower courts, both the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit relied on the disparate impact standard under the Fair Housing Act.
Originally adopted by the Nixon Administration as an enforcement tool, both Republican and Democratic Administrations have relied on the disparate impact standard over the last four decades to address widespread discrimination in housing.
Who is against longstanding fair housing protections?
The companies trying to dismantle the Fair Housing Act are some of the big banks and insurers that brought our economy to the brink of collapse just a few years ago, due largely to unlawful abuses and discrimination. The vested financial interest of these big corporations in removing common sense protections for Americans should not trump the national interest or the values of equal opportunity.
Recent Polling/Relevant Statistics
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that more than 3 million instances of housing discrimination occur each year. Many more instances are unreported.
The degree of residential segregation across our nation is staggering. According to U.S. Census estimates, 75% of African American families nationwide reside in just 16% of the Census tracts. According to the most recent Census, “[d]espite [some] declines, residential segregation was still higher for African Americans than for the other groups across all measures.” Segregation levels among Latinos and Asian Americans have remained constant since 1980, with these communities residing in even more isolated and homogeneous enclaves now than they did in 2000, continuing a trend visible since 1980.
Two of our staff attorneys, Candace Moore and Jessica Schneider, attended several meetings for a Chicago school discipline reform. They participated in a group for the reform called "Creating Restorative School Communities" along with other groups: Youth Employment, Safety and Justice, Safe Spaces and Activities and Health and Healing.
The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights appreciates the Chicago Tribune’s story regarding where tenants with Housing Choice Vouchers live. As the article states, these vouchers, formerly called Section 8, are federal subsidies for low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled, which enable participants to rent quality housing in the private market. They allow tenants with vouchers to live in neighborhoods and towns previously inaccessible to them, while the owners are paid fair rent. This has the great potential to break down Chicago’s shameful segregation based on race, ethnicity, disability, and economic status, and to affirmatively further fair housing. Read More
July 15, 2013
By: John Flynn Rooney
A Chicago-based organization that supports court-related alternative dispute resolution programs became a nonprofit entity with pro bono help from lawyers at two law firms.
Resolution Systems Institute (RSI) became an independent organization July 1. For the previous 18 years, RSI operated as an affiliate of the Center for Conflict Resolution (CCR) in Chicago.
In 2012, RSI and CCR officials began discussions and agreed RSI had its own vision of what it wanted to do, said Morton Denlow, president of RSI's board of directors.
"Our vision, I think, is more national in scope and we support the leading website that deals with ADR," Denlow said.
"We perform consulting services to courts and others on how to create court-related ADR systems. I think CCR is more into delivering ADR services and they train mediators and perform mediation sessions in Cook County."
RSI does not provide mediators.
"It was a very friendly separation from CCR in terms of creating the (new) corporation," Denlow said. "They have been helpful to us over the years and we very much appreciate it."
RSI will continue leasing office space with CCR for at least the next year at 11 E. Adams St.
"We look forward to a continued and cooperative relationship," said Jacqueline Stanley Lustig, president of CCR's board of directors. "I certainly hope we can collaborate on projects."
When RSI began considering becoming independent, it applied to The Law Project of the Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Inc. to seek pro bono assistance.
The Law Project matched RSI with lawyers at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP and Seyfarth, Shaw LLP.
Denlow estimated that the two law firms provided RSI with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of lawyers' pro bono time.
"They literally treated us like a billion-dollar client even though we are a small not for profit," Denlow said.
Rene Ghadimi, counsel at Skadden, led a group of about six lawyers at the firm in handling incorporation, filing for tax-exempt status and the separation agreement.
Skadden lawyers spent about 455 pro bono hours so far working on RSI matters, Ghadimi said.
Ghadimi said he was gratified by his work with RSI.
"I'm a corporate finance lawyer, so it's good to do some basic nuts-and-bolts legal work in advising basically a startup and addressing all the different aspects from leasing … to the tax issues," he said.
In October, Skadden lawyers filed an application on RSI's behalf with the IRS for so-called 501(c)(3) status as a nonprofit That application remains pending.
"I would say probably the most challenging (part) was the application to the IRS in terms of the delays and timing and the impact that has on other aspects of the transaction," Ghadimi said.
Other Skadden lawyers who worked on RSI matters include Sarah E.S. Ralph, William S. Friedman, Lance J. Phillips and Christine M. Szafranski.
Marc R. Jacobs, a Seyfarth partner and chair of its Chicago office pro bono committee, and Ashley Choren Workman, an associate, worked on employment matters for RSI.
Jacobs and Workman provided about 75 hours of pro bono time to RSI, Jacobs said. Those lawyers helped RSI develop a human resources policy and an employee handbook.
RSI consists of four employees but expects to grow to eight by year's end, said Susan M. Yates, RSI's executive director.
Jacobs said doing pro bono work allows him to use his years of legal experience to give back to the community.
"But with this project in particular, it really gave me a chance to counsel essentially a startup organization in developing employment protocols to help them be successful in the future," Jacobs said.
The pro bono assistance from Skadden and Seyfarth "meant that we could have a smooth transition to become a separate independent entity and not worry about whether we could afford to do it," Denlow said.
CCR also received pro bono help from Sidley, Austin LLP with legal work involving the separation agreement and related matters, Lustig said.
Several Sidley, Austin lawyers, led by partner Richard W. Astle, did 155 pro bono hours of work for CCR, Lustig said.
Our City is in a crisis about the planned closing of neighborhood-based public schools. Specifically, as many as 54 Chicago Public Schools will be closed and 61 building structures emptied in addition to school “turnarounds” and consolidations which will dramatically alter the school environment for vulnerable elementary students. More than 47,500 elementary students will be affected including more than 3,906 students experiencing homelessness and 2400 students requiring special education services. No such massive school closure has been attempted in the history of our City or our nation. This alone must give all reasonable people pause.
Click HERE to read the full letter.
The Chicago Lawyers' Committee mourns the loss of civil rights champion and former Chicago Lawyers’ Committee Executive Director Robert Howard. Mr. Howard served as CLC Executive Director from 1970-1972 and was an integral part the organization's early foundation.
Throughout his career, Mr. Howard demonstrated a staunch commitment to equal justice for all, focusing on a wide range of civil rights issues, such as police brutality and harassment of youth, and a well-publicized charge to end police spying on community groups. Mr. Howard also played a pivotal role in the design and funding of the plan to desegregate Chicago Public Schools.
Mr. Howard served as legal counsel for the Better Government Association in 1975 and worked on a volunteer basis for the Afro-American Patrolmen's League challenging discriminatory police force hiring.
In 1980, Mr. Howard helped form the civil rights firm Hartunian, Futterman and Howard – now Futterman, Howard & Ashley.
The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee is grateful for Mr. Howard’s early leadership, and many contributions as a civil rights trail blazer, and extends its deepest sympathy to Mr. Howard’s family and friends.
Nonprofit VOTE recently released America Goes to the Polls -- a report on national turnout and voting trends. The report features useful insight from across the country, including data to support same day registration and its ability to dramatically increase voter turnout. Check out the full America Goes to the Polls report for more details.
The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights (CLC) commends the regulation that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued on February 5, 2013 entitled “Implementation of the Fair Housing Act’s Discriminatory Effects Standard.” The regulation reinforces that the Federal Fair Housing Act makes illegal not only policies and practices intended to discriminate, but also policies and practices that are neutral on their faces but have discriminatory effects, or a disparate impact.
The Federal Fair Housing Act makes it illegal for both public and private entities to discriminate in housing based on race, national origin, familial status, physical or mental disability, sex, and religion. The Act protects basic fairness by seeking to eliminate housing discrimination and promote inclusive communities for all Americans.
Holding housing actors responsible for the discriminatory effects of their policies safeguards the right to a fair chance for everyone. Where you live determines the school your child attends, where you work and how you get there, and your access to health care, nutritious food, and other resources. Unfortunately, policies and practices still exist that – intentionally and unintentionally - keep some people out of quality housing they can afford simply because of who they are.
The new regulation clarifies that neutral policies of both government and private actors that have a disparate discriminatory impact on a protected group, or create, perpetuate or increase segregation, are illegal under the Fair Housing Act. This interpretation is consistent with the uniform interpretation of the Act by HUD and the federal courts, which have consistently, for decades, have supported legal liability for policies with disparate impact.
Examples of neutral policies with discriminatory disparate effects include:
- lender policies and practices not based on the risk of the loan, such as requiring a credit score above the Federal Housing Authority minimum, or minimum loan amount policies;
- municipalities restricting construction of multifamily or affordable housing in areas of opportunity;
- municipalities restricting the siting of group homes for people with disabilities;
- landlords unreasonably limiting occupancy of apartments to, for example, three persons per unit; and
- landlords placing their (predominantly African-American) Housing Choice Voucher tenants in their inferior buildings in neighborhoods with relatively fewer amenities.
Staff and volunteers with the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee’s Fair Housing Project educate tenants, homeowners, landlords, and others about their rights and duties under fair housing and fair lending laws, advocate for progressive laws and public policies, and provide legal representation to individuals and groups in asserting and enforcing their fair housing rights and securing equal housing opportunities to affirmatively further fair housing in the Chicago area.
Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc. protects and promotes civil rights by bringing the strength and prestige of the private bar to bear on the problems of poverty and discrimination. Founded in 1969, the Committee champions equal justice and community development for underrepresented people by partnering with volunteer lawyers to provide litigation and transactional representation.
For further information, contact Fair Housing Project Director Betsy Shuman-Moore, email@example.com.
Incarceration is one of the most important civil rights issues of our day. With approximately 2.4 million people incarcerated, America has the highest incarceration rate in the world. The problem is especially acute in Illinois. Non-violent offenders comprise over 60% of the prison and jail population in America, and in Illinois they constitute almost 70% of inmates. In 2010, Illinois reported the largest increase of its prison population among all other states. Incarceration is also overtly racial, despite the fact that African Americans use drugs at the same rate as Whites and Latinos, African Americans represented an average of 80 percent of all persons admitted to Illinois prisons for drug offenses in the 1990s. The critical need for incarceration reform prompted the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights to review nationwide reforms that are providing alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders.
The following article assesses the current landscape of incarceration reform by identifying specific reforms seeking to provide incarceration alternatives for non-violent offenders, highlighting states that have implemented comprehensive versions of these reforms, and taking a critical look at Illinois’ policy towards non-violent offenders.
Implementing reforms for non-violent offenders has gained momentum recently, and such reforms have been accompanied by notable success. All 17 states that have cut their imprisonment rates also experienced a decline in crime rates. Moreover, keeping non-violent offenders out of the incarceration system saves resources and allows states to reallocate those resources for offenders who pose a threat to public safety. States have implemented reforms by widely establishing drug courts and diversion programs, updating legislation to reduce the severity level of non-violent offenses, relying on alternative sentencing options, and decriminalizing marijuana.
Although Illinois has enacted legislative changes that effect non-violent offenders, there are still important reforms it can adopt to critically impact its incarceration rate of non-violent offenders. The current trend of reforms nationwide provides useful examples for Illinois to draw upon. The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights is alert to the need for reform, and hopes this article prompts a preliminary discussion on strategic ways to implement such reforms.
To read the full report, click here.