A senior member of the House Oversight Committee has sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder demanding to know whether the Justice Department exercised undo influence in getting the city of St. Paul, Minnesota to back off a case before the Supreme Court that could have invalidated a test for discrimination in housing.
The case could have ruled unconstitutional the use of “disparate impact” analysis in determining whether discrimination by local housing authorities had occurred. As the term suggests, policies could be ruled discriminatory if they merely have a greater impact on one minority group, even if there was no intent to discriminate.
In the St. Paul case, authorities were trying to make property owners in low income areas correct housing code violations. A large share of these buildings housed African Americans.
According to the Wall Street Journal, a ruling by the Supreme Court in favor of St. Paul would have messed with the Justice Department’s aggressive use of disparate impact to pursue its civil rights agenda.
Most lawyers figured the court would rule disparate-impact analysis (which doesn’t take intent into account) illegal because the act doesn’t include explicit language allowing it. Such a finding would have seriously crimped Justice’s civil rights chief Tom Perez, who has championed the use of disparate impact to threaten banks with race-discrimination lawsuits. Justice has admitted Mr. Perez talked to St. Paul’s mayor and the plaintiffs regarding Magner.
So Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), chairman of an Oversight Committee Subcommittee, has sent a letter to Holder asking exactly why he inserted himself into the matter. From the Journal:
Mr. McHenry’s letter asks some simple questions. Why did Justice interfere in a case it wasn’t a party to? Who talked to whom, when and why? Did Justice offer the city anything in return for withdrawing its appeal? The committee sent a similar letter on Feb. 27 to St. Paul Mayor Christopher Coleman, who largely declined to cooperate and could be subpoenaed if he continues to stonewall. Don’t be surprised if Justice takes the opposite tack and comes out swinging to defend a policy that’s key to its political narrative, with justice as an afterthought.
I’m sure Mr. McHenry will be receiving a detailed and expeditious reply.