Seeing as how it's impossible for the government to outlaw secret, unspoken discrimination, does it make sense for us to have laws like the federal Fair Housing Act that prohibit overt discrimination? Some lawyers are suing Craigslist over discriminatory housing ads, but despite the law I think their suit misses the point: a landlord won't rent to someone he doesn't want to rent to, and there's no way for the government to determine his true motives.

The Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law sued San Francisco-based Craigslist, claiming that during a six-month period beginning in July, the site ran more than 100 ads in Chicago that violated the federal Fair Housing Act.

The committee, a public interest consortium of the city's leading law firms, said in a federal suit that those ads discriminated on race, religion, sex, family status or national origin.

Among the ads cited in the suit: "Non-women of Color NEED NOT APPLY"; "African Americans and Arabians tend to clash with me so that won't work out"; and "Requirements: Clean Godly Christian Male." ...

Laurie Wardell, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Lawyers' Committee, said landlords realize that the Internet has a lower bar for housing ads. "You just shift to the Internet if you want to discriminate," she said.

Landlords who can't discriminate in ads can still discriminate in person. At worst, these ads help prevent renters and landlords from wasting time pursuing arrangements that one party has no desire to approve.

Aside from the question of whether or not we should have laws prohibiting certain kinds of overt discrimination, Eric Goldman says there is a "a clear federal exculpatory statute and directly-on-point adverse precedent" -- which means he thinks The Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law will lose. (Maybe if their name was shorter they'd have time to read more case law.)



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