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Washington State Legal Aid Lawyers Cheer Supreme Court's Fair Housing Act Decision

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To much fanfare last week, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage and upheld Obamacare subsidies. But those decisions overshadowed another ruling – one that has Washington state legal aid lawyers cheering.

The case has to do with the Fair Housing Act, which aims to eliminate discrimination in housing. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court said plaintiffs don’t have to prove intentional discrimination. Instead, they can use statistics to show that even neutral-sounding policies can have discriminatory effects.

Eric Dunn is a housing attorney with Northwest Justice Project in Seattle who has brought Fair Housing Act cases against landlords who have blanket policies excluding people with criminal records.

"They’ll put in their advertisement you have to have a clean criminal background, so they don’t care what it is, what the crime was, when it happened, what the circumstances were, sometimes they don’t even care if the person got convicted – an arrest is good enough for them – they’ll deny these folks," Dunn said.

Dunn says because minorities are over-represented in the criminal justice system, those kinds of policies result in housing discrimination.

He says he was waiting to see how the court would rule, because he’s about to file another case challenging landlords who refuse to rent to people who have been sued for eviction.

Merf Ehman with Columbia Legal Services said she was elated by the ruling.

"It was a huge victory," she said. "It's the first time that the Supreme Court has said unconscious bias is problematic and we can't allow it."

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.