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With the United States Supreme Court's condemnation of legal segregation in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, and a vigorous civil rights movement that led to the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the nation entered the beginning of a new era in race relations. This, and future civil rights legislation, would be characterized by the development of a national agenda for ending discrimination and promoting equality. One area that was not included in this initial congressional effort, but later found its way into the legislative agenda, was the subject of housing discrimination. Despite the relatively few debates and the near absence of any extensive record from committees, Congress finally passed the Civil Rights Act of 1968. This provision, enacted as 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601-3619 and § 3631, and also known as the Fair Housing Act ("FHA"), prohibits discrimination in the lease, sale, or rental of housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin. Nevertheless, many recent commentators have agreed that few areas of the law have failed to achieve their lofty goals as dramatically and persistently as our nation's fair housing statutes. The dream of ending discrimination in housing, which many hoped would provide the vehicle for integrating neighborhoods, schools, and eventually the nation's consciousness, has been largely unrealized. Some have argued that this has been primarily due to the deficiencies in the law itself. Others criticize the limited enforcement it has received, but most agree that persistent opposition to the integration of our housing market has left Title VIII as an ironic component of the civil rights arsenal. The law certainly stands as a bold and optimistic proclamation. As stated by Senator Walter Mondale, one of its sponsors, the Act would replace the nation's ghettos by "truly integrated and balanced living patterns." While some civil right measures have been curtailed over the years, Title VIII has been uniformly supported by the few Supreme Court decisions that have reviewed the constitutionality or the application of the statute. Since its adoption over thirty years ago, lower courts have mainly adopted an interpretation of the Fair Housing Act that reflects an effort to fulfill its broad legislative purpose. Many state agencies have also adopted the principle prohibitions of Title VIII, and with its 1988 amendments, the law has been strengthened, broadened, and attorney's fee provisions have permitted the private bar to play a primary role in its enforcement. Nevertheless, housing discrimination remains persistent and Title VIII is a mere stopgap measure for a social issue that seems intractable.


Civil Rights and Discrimination | Constitutional Law | Law


This article was initially published in Volume 30 of the Fordham Urban Law Journal and is republished with permission.