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Bank of America Corp. v. City of Miami and Wells Fargo & Co. v. City of Miami (U.S. Sup. Ct.)

READ CAC’S BRIEF IN Bank of America Corp. and Wells Fargo & Co. v. City of Miami

In Bank of America Corp. v. City of Miami and in Wells Fargo & Co. v. City of Miami — consolidated for review — the Supreme Court is considering whether a city government may sue the alleged perpetrators over racial discrimination under the Fair Housing Act.

The City of Miami sued Bank of America and Wells Fargo for allegedly engaging in a decade-long practice of racially discriminatory and predatory lending. Miami claims that the banks targeted minority borrowers for high-risk, costly loans and refused to extend credit to them on equal terms with white borrowers, in violation of the Fair Housing Act (FHA), which makes it unlawful to discriminate by race in transactions related to residential real estate. According to Miami, these discriminatory practices resulted in unnecessary and premature foreclosures, which cost the city tax revenue and forced it to spend more on municipal services to address the blight in affected neighborhoods. To support its allegations, Miami offered statistical data and statements by confidential witnesses who claimed that the banks deliberately targeted black and Latino borrowers for predatory loans. The banks countered that Miami may not sue under the FHA because its alleged injuries were only an indirect result of discrimination committed against others, arguing that the Act is not meant to protect parties in Miami’s position. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled in favor of Miami, and the Supreme Court agreed to review those decisions.

On October 7, 2016, Constitutional Accountability Center filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Miami, arguing that the city is among the “aggrieved” parties who may sue to enforce the FHA. When the Framers adopted our Constitution, they conferred broad power on the federal courts established by Article III, and Congress has long enlisted private parties to help enforce federal law in those courts. Continuing this practice, when Congress enacted the FHA in 1968, it gave private actors, including cities, a right to sue for injuries they suffer as a result of discrimination committed against others. As the Supreme Court has repeatedly acknowledged, allowing indirect victims like Miami to sue under the Act promotes robust enforcement of the law and deters violations, helping to combat the scourge of racial housing segregation. When Congress amended the FHA in 1988 to encourage even more private enforcement, it clearly signaled its intent to preserve the rulings of the Court that parties like Miami, who are indirectly damaged by discrimination against others, may seek redress under the Act. As we discuss in our brief, cities are well positioned to help enforce the promise of fair housing and overcome barriers that make it difficult for individual victims of discrimination to vindicate their own rights.

The Court heard oral argument on November 8, 2016.

Briefs filed by CAC: