More than a year ago, civil rights and fair housing activists cheered when the U.S. Supreme Court allowed a lawsuit over housing segregation in Texas to go forward.
On Friday, a federal district judge dismissed it.
The ruling, by U.S. District Judge Sidney Fitzwater, is the latest in the saga of a lawsuit filed years ago by the Dallas-based Inclusive Communities Project (ICP).
ICP, a nonprofit devoted to fair housing issues, argued that the state doled out tax credits in Dallas in a way that packed minorities into poor neighborhoods and spared white neighborhoods from development of low-income housing. The result is that neighborhoods throughout Dallas remain segregated, the project argued. Even if this didn't happen intentionally, Texas could still be liable if the impact itself reinforced segregation, ICP argued — and last year, the Supreme Court agreed with that argument in a 5-4 decision.
But the court's decision last year left it up to the Northern District of Texas to decide whether Texas is actually liable. And the bar for proving that is very high. That's by design, said Rigel Oliveri, an associate professor of law at the University of Missouri.
"When you've got the government trying to use its money to improve housing and improve neighborhoods, they should be able to do what they think is best," Oliveri said. "If government always felt like they were liable every time they tried to put up low-income housing somewhere, they’re not going to want to do it. And that’s bad, too."
Proving that Texas is liable for reinforcing segregated housing means the state must have discriminated using a "specific policy," and ICP could not prove that such a policy exists, Fitzwater wrote in his opinion. He also wrote that Texas' housing agency may not be the only one responsible for the fact that low-income housing has been approved mostly in minority areas.
There are other factors, such as "developers' decisions" and the "decisions and preferences of local governments," that cause the disparity, Fitzwater wrote. (For example, if state legislators write letters opposing a low-income housing project in their district, Texas' housing agency must take that into account when deciding how to award tax credits).
ICP did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the decision.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced the ruling in a press release late Friday.