Last Updated: April 02, 2013
On April 4, Judicial Watch filed public records requests at the city and federal levels pursuant to an investigation into the Obama administration’s involvement in a housing discrimination suit arising out of St. Paul, Minnesota. Landlords of budget rentals had brought suit against the city – and won – alleging that excessive code enforcement against their properties would have the effect, if not the intent, of harming racial and ethnic minorities in greater proportion than St. Paul residents of other backgrounds. The legal theory, known as “disparate impact,” is more commonly used by the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development to encourage out-of-court settlements against mortgage lenders.
According to a February 13 editorial in the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. Department of Justice pressured the city to withdraw its case from the U.S. Supreme Court, where the case had been slated for argument. Apparently, federal officials feared the city would lose again, setting unfavorable precedent for the Obama administration. According to the paper, if the landlords won, the “disparate impact” theory would no longer be a government tool for punishing instances of racism it perceived but could not prove. Rather, any over-regulation which resulted in less housing for ethnic or racial minorities would now be vulnerable to being struck down under the same theory.
What follows is a run-down of responses so far:
The U.S. Department of Justice on April 4 asked Judicial Watch to clarify which St. Paul case it was referring to and on June 11 asked whether it meant “and” at the place in the Freedom of Information Act request where Judicial Watch said “or”;
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on May 3 asked Judicial Watch to explain what it meant by “disparate impact,” even though the agency published a rule defining the term on November 16, 2011, 9 day after the U.S. Supreme Court granted the city’s petition for certiorari (agreed to hear the case);
The Federal Housing Finance Agency (the guardian of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s assets) told Judicial Watch on April 30 that it had found a 208-page document responsive to Judicial Watch’s request but that it was withholding it in full based on a trade secrets privilege. Judicial Watch administratively appealed that determination on May 25. A decision in that appeal is due on June 22.
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