Between Resistance and Embrace: American Realtors, the Justice Department, and the Uncertain Triumph of the Fair Housing Act, 1968-1978
60 Howard Law Journal __ (2017)
47 Pages Posted: 2 Feb 2017
Date Written: February 1, 2017
Despite the historical consensus that the Fair Housing Act was ineffective and toothless, the first decade after the Act’s passage saw sharply reduced rates of discrimination. After demonstrating that such a significant drop could not have been the result of overall changing racial attitudes, this Article attempts to show that it resulted from the enforcement of the Act itself – especially the vigorous efforts of the Department of Justice. Not only did DOJ successfully sue hundreds of landlords and developers across the country (including the heretofore unknown New Yorker Donald J. Trump), but it focused its efforts on America’s real estate agents – a linchpin of the system of housing discrimination. These actions succeeded: this Article presents evidence from the realtors themselves and from fair housing advocates – who did not figure to be overly optimistic – that substantial changes in behavior resulted from aggressive litigation by federal civil rights law enforcement. The efforts were not a universal success, for by the end of the 1970’s discrimination rates remained far too high. And they did not alter patterns of segregation. But they represented a significant policy success. The Article concludes how the story of successful civil rights enforcement generates important theoretical implications in the psychology of law, theories of social norms, and the celebrated “Convergence Thesis” of American civil rights law.
Keywords: Fair Housing Act, housing discrimination, civil rights law, fair housing adocates
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