Researching Public Law and Public Policy in the Public Interest

Cities may sue banks for injuries to their tax base caused by unlawful conduct against homeowners, according to the Supreme Court in a May 1st decision that was closely watched by fair housing advocates.  An unusual split among the justices produced the 5-4 opinion in Bank of America v. City of Miami.  The federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) ruling demonstrates that the aggregation of direct harms can produce broader consequences that may be actionable by indirect victims.

The presidential election that was too vulgar for us to write about, with accusations too inarticulate to describe policies, and an intimidating atmosphere of racist, nativist and sexist extremism inflaming every imaginable social division, finally received the emotional outcome it created. Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in a historic upset destined to be known as the ultimate political demand for change. For those dedicated to working against structural inequality, this may be the transformative change we never imagined.
When President Obama visited the Rutgers Law School on November 2nd, it represented the startling achievement of two dream-like goals. First was the sheer specter of the occasion—seeing our president suddenly in our home, flanked by new flags and the familiar bars that adorn our atrium’s spiral stairs. Second was the occasion itself: to meet in a roundtable with formerly incarcerated persons and then to deliver a speech intended to reverse—by executive order—one of the single greatest public policy failures in American history.
It is tempting to look for signs of America’s direction in the late June ritual of reading the U.S. Supreme Court’s most momentous decisions of the term. Last week’s rulings in support of marriage equality, fair housing and Obamacare would suggest that on fundamental issues of daily life — the equal status of all love, the idea of housing as a link to life chances and the opening of access to healthcare for millions — the United States just took a giant step toward updating the constitutional principle of liberty with dignity. What occurred, however, was more accident than deliberate progress.
Translated into the terminology of structural inequality, what happened in Baltimore says a lot about the geography of opportunity—and the growing intolerance about its disparities.
It must always be acknowledged that whatever one’s unconscious views, most cops work hard and do not engage in unprofessional conduct, let alone crimes. But dehumanization of blacks was on full display by at least one Ferguson police officer in a CNN report that recorded him shouting at protesters. If police brutality occurs along a spectrum of contempt for black life, so does dehumanization.
At the Center on Law in Metropolitan Equity (CLiME), we join a growing line of lawyers and legal academics who appreciate the role of structure—much of it legal structure, but public policy, too—in determining opportunity. Structure works on place, and place is where life happens. In our first year, CLiME will endeavor to be a resource about the structural relationship between place and opportunity.
It’s rare to reach a point in our national sense of humor that a sitting Supreme Court justice emerges as the butt of popular jokes for comments he made during an oral argument. That’s what happened last week, however, after Justice Antonin Scalia asked lawyers defending Congress’s extension of Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act whether maintaining the pre-clearance formula for nine “covered” states, which are subject to federal oversight, was really just a “racial entitlement” program and not a constitutional necessity.