Justices Back Broad Interpretation of Housing Law

The Supreme Court on Thursday endorsed a broad interpretation of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, allowing suits under a legal theory that civil rights groups say is a crucial tool to fight housing discrimination.

“Much progress remains to be made in our nation’s continuing struggle against racial isolation,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority in the 5-to-4 ruling. “The court acknowledges the Fair Housing Act’s continuing role in moving the nation toward a more integrated society.”

The court divided along familiar lines, with its four more liberal members — Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — joining Justice Kennedy.

The question in the case was whether plaintiffs suing under the housing law must prove intentional discrimination or merely that the challenged practice had produced a “disparate impact.” Drawing on decisions concerning other kinds of discrimination, Justice Kennedy said the housing law allowed suits relying on both kinds of evidence.

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