by Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean and Raymond Pryke Professor of First Amendment Law, University of California, Irvine School of Law; Co-counsel for City of Miami in Bank of America v. City of Miami and Wells Fargo v. City of Miami
On Monday, the Supreme Court gave civil rights plaintiffs an important victory when it ruled that the City of Miami had standing to sue under the Fair Housing Act to challenge discriminatory lending by banks. In Bank of America v. City of Miami, the Court, in a 5-3 decision, held that the city was an “aggrieved person” within the zone of interests protected by the statute. The Court also said the city needs to allege and prove that its injuries were proximately caused by the bank’s discriminatory lending and the Court remanded the case for the federal court of appeals to consider the causation question.
The Fair Housing Act, adopted in 1968, not long after the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., broadly prohibits race discrimination in housing. The Act makes it unlawful “[t]o discriminate against any person in the terms, conditions, or privileges of sale or rental of a dwelling, or in the provision of services or facilities in connection therewith, because of race . . . or national origin.” It also forbids discrimination by “any person or other entity whose business includes engaging in residential real estate-related transactions . . . in making available such a transaction, or in the terms or conditions of such a transaction, because of race . . . or national origin.”
A lawsuit to enforce the Act may be brought by the attorney general or by an “aggrieved person.” The statute broadly defines “[a]ggrieved person” to include any person who— (1) claims to have been injured by a discriminatory housing practice; or (2) believes that such person will be injured by a discriminatory housing practice that is about to occur.”