WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court ruled 8 to 0 today that federal courts can order federal funding of low-income housing in the suburbs to relieve inner city segregation of public housing.
The court said if minorities are segregated in public housing in violation of their constitutional rights, the Department of Housing and Urban Development can be required to foster additional low-income housing in the suburbs.
The decision involved a lower court ruling which found that HUD had joined with the Chicago Housing Authority to knowingly limit funding of low-income housing to predominantly black areas, creating high-rise ghettos on the city's south and west sides.
The court's opinion noted that no final housing desegregation plan has been devised for Chicago, and that today's ruling does not require involving the suburbs if an appropriate plan can be devised within the city limits alone. But it said there is no bar to a broader order if needed.
Nearly two years ago, the Supreme Court barred cross-district busing of children to relieve segregation in Detroit's public schools. The court said there was no showing that constitutional rights had been violated in the case, and therefore suburbs could not be required to consolidate their schools with Detroit.
In today's housing case, Justice Potter Stewart said a constitutional violation was found by intentional housing discrimination involving the federal government, and that courts have a duty to use every available means to end the constitutional violation.
"Nothing in the (Detroit) decision suggests a per se rule that federal courts lack authority to order parties found to have violated the Constitution to undertake remedial efforts beyond the municipal boundaries of the city where the violation occurred," Stewart said.
No final plan has been approved for the Chicago case, and the court's ruling merely authorizes relief involving suburban housing in a violation of constitutional rights is found. Courts, under the ruling, are not required to hand down such an order.
After the Detroit case, many civil rights leaders expressed fear that the justices had made it nearly impossible to win metropolitan-wide relief from inner city segregation.
Answering HUD's assertion that the Detroit case barred an order involving areas outside Chicago, Stewart said, "to foreclose such relief solely because HUD's constitutional violation took place within the city limits of Chicago would transform (Detroit's) principled limitation on the exercise of federal judicial authority into an arbitrary and mechanical shield for those found to have engaged in unconstitutional conduct."
Stewart emphasized that under current law, HUD subsidizes private housing developers and does not operate its own housing. No community would be forced to finance its own public housing, so the court order does not place the kind of heavy burden of consolidation and involvement on suburbs that school desegregation requires.