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Just Thoughts is the blog of the Empire Justice Center, New York’s statewide, multi-issue, multi-strategy public interest law firm focused on changing the “systems” within which poor and low income families live. Here staff and guest authors will share stories, announcements and perspectives on timely issues related to our work.    



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US Supreme Court Upholds Disparate Impact Standard under the Fair Housing Act

Issue Area: Housing, Consumer

One of the more notable, though less noted decisions coming out of the U.S. Supreme Court in the past week was its ruling on June 25, 2015, to uphold the long-standing tenet that the Fair Housing Act prohibits policies that have a discriminatory impact, even if the discrimination was not intentional. 

Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project was brought by a Texas group who challenged the state’s housing agency’s issuance of tax credits for the development of affordable housing.  The group contested that the housing built through these credits was being concentrated in racially segregated, African-American and Latino neighborhoods in Dallas.  The effect of the policy, they argued, has a “disparate impact” on minorities and thus violates the Fair Housing Act (FHA). 

The FHA makes it illegal to refuse to sell, rent, “or otherwise make unavailable” housing to anyone because of race, national origin, gender, familial status, and disability.  The 5-4 decision authored by Justice Kennedy emphasizes that a broad-reading of the statute is necessary to combat discriminatory conduct.  For as the court noted, “Recognition of disparate-impact liability under the FHA also plays a role in uncovering discriminatory intent: It permits plaintiffs to counteract unconscious prejudices and disguised animus that escape easy classification as disparate treatment.  In this way disparate-impact liability may prevent segregated housing patterns that might otherwise result from covert and illicit stereotyping.” (Texas Dept. of Hsg.  v. Inclusive Communities, at 17-18).

Fair housing and anti-discrimination advocates are cheering the decision because strong and effective fair housing laws are vital to ensuring equal opportunity in housing.  Governmental policies such as zoning laws or enforcement of housing codes may seem benign on their face, but have detrimental discriminatory impacts.  The same holds true for private corporations such as developers, real estate professionals, and lenders – programs that seem neutral on paper may in fact further disenfranchise people. 

This decision is a tremendous victory not only for those communities, but for all of us.  Equal opportunity and freedom from discrimination benefits everyone.









The Supreme Court Reigns Supreme: Protecting Equal Rights, Access to Health Care for All

Issue Area: Health, Civil Rights


WHAT A WEEK FOR JUSTICE!

Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled that federal subsidies for health care will continue to flow to those who need affordable insurance the most, regardless of which state they live in.  It’s heartening to know that the Supreme Court has again upheld the validity of the Affordable Care Act, and this latest challenge to expanded access to health insurance is behind us.  Here at Empire Justice Center, we’ll continue to work to make sure that everyone is able to obtain quality health care.  Our friends at Health Care for All New York have released a statement – check it out here.



Marriage equality is now a legal reality in the entire United States! In a landmark decision, the SCOTUS ruled today in Obergefell v. Hodges that it is unconstitutional for states to ban same-sex marriage.  Justice Anthony Kennedy stated in the opinion that same-sex and opposite-sex couples alike are guaranteed “equal dignity in the eye of the law” under the U.S. Constitution.  We honor and thank the brave couples who demanded full equality for their families, and the lawyers and organizations who continued to fight for this victory! Today truly is a historic day to celebrate!









Finding a Summer Meal Program


We all know that nutrition is one of the building blocks of healthy and growing minds and bodies.  Around New York, millions of kids depend on school lunch programs, and now finding summer meal programs for kids is easier than ever.

Hunger Solutions New York has developed this easy to use tool to help families find programs close to home.  Click the summer meals button below to find the program nearest to you!

     



Tags: summer meal programs | childhood hunger | feeding programs