WASHINGTON Oct 31 A case before the U.S.
Supreme Court that could limit housing discrimination claims is
close to a settlement, potentially removing an opportunity for
the justices to rule on the matter.
Carter Phillips, a Washington lawyer for Mount Holly, New
Jersey, one of the parties in the case watched by the insurance
and banking community, said on Thursday that an agreement
appeared close but was not confirmed. Both sides have been
working for months on a settlement.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that a
tentative deal had been reached.
If the case settles, it will mark the second time in two
years that civil rights advocates and others have worked to keep
a housing-discrimination case away from a Supreme Court
dominated by conservatives.
In June, the court agreed to consider whether Mount Holly's
plan to demolish lower-income housing and replace it with new
units, some available at market rates, violated the 1968 Fair
Housing Act because it would be less affordable for minorities.
The court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case on
Dec. 4. If the parties settled, they would inform the court and
arguments would be canceled.
In weighing the lawsuit filed by Mount Holly Gardens
Citizens in Action against the township of Mount Holly, the
court could decide whether the act allows for so-called
"disparate impact" claims.
Such claims target seemingly neutral practices that have a
discriminatory effect. For decades such claims have been a way
for lawyers representing African Americans and other minorities
to attack policies that do not directly discriminate yet have
the effect of putting certain groups of people at a
Phillips said he had been told by township officials that
they were close to agreement. Yet he cautioned that he did not
expect any deal to be finalized before the end of the week. Any
agreement would have to be accepted by the plaintiffs and also
ratified by the township council.
Olga Pomar, a lawyer with South Jersey Legal Services who
represents the residents, said in an email that "negotiations
are ongoing and continuing."
James Maley, another lawyer for the town, said in an email:
"Talks are ongoing" and that the case had yet to settle.
INSURERS, BANKS FOLLOW CASE
The case is being closely watched by insurance and banking
interests because of the effect if could have on similar types
of disparate-impact claims made over lending and insurance
The Fair Housing Act, passed by Congress to prohibit bias
based on race in the sale or rental of housing and related
services, does not explicitly allow disparate impact claims. The
Supreme Court has never ruled on the issue.
The case could affect other laws the government has
interpreted to allow disparate impact claims. For example, the
Consumer Finance Protection Bureau has said it could make such
claims over lending practices under the Equal Credit Opportunity
The case is Township of Mount Holly v. Mount Holly Gardens
Citizens in Action, U.S. Supreme Court, No.11-1507.