In today's American Banker (paid subsciption required), Rachel Witkowski riases some good points about the potential impact of the recent decision of federal district court judge Richard Leon's recent decision that HUD's use of disparate impact violates the Fair Housing Act. For one thing, it throws a monkey wrench in HUD's use of the questionable theory, even though other ideologically-driven regulators like the CFPB and the US Justice Department may not be deterred from continuing to use it as cudgel with which to beat lenders senseless.
It is unlikely to stop other regulators, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, from their own use of the theory in other circumstances, but sources said it will slow down what HUD can do under disparate impact until the Supreme Court issues a ruling on a similar case before it.
As another observer notes, it also boosts the morale of lenders, trade groups, and others that have been fighting the theory over the past few years. While HUD will likely appeal the decision, the fact that the same issue is before the SCOTUS and that arguments on that case are likely to be heard early next year means that HUD's pursuit of the appeal, and use of the theory in other instances, may be deterred.
Judge Leon's opinion was, to say the least, unvarnished.
As is typical for Leon — who often issues strongly worded opinions — the judge blasted the use of disparate impact, saying the Fair Housing Act "only" prohibits disparate "treatment," or intentional discrimination. Responding to an argument by the government that his court was precluded from weighing in on the use of disparate impact, Leon replied, "Please!"
"The expansion of FHA to include disparate-impact liability would not only have wide-ranging disruptive effect on the pricing and provision of homeowner's insurance, but would also require insurers to collect and analyze certain types of race-based data on their clients and prospective clients," Leon said in the final opinion.
He added that the case was "another example of an administrative agency trying desperately to write into law that which Congress never intended to sanction."
That has been the story of the life of the banking industry since January 2009.
Witkowski also points out that Judge Leon's decision, and the case pending before the Supreme Court, involve the Fair Housing Act. The CFPB has been using disparate impact to push claims under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. Therefore, a decision against disparate impact under the Fair Housing Act doesn't necessarily apply to actions by the CFPB under ECOA. However, what such a ruling would likely do is encourage victims of CFPB's overreach to fight back, with the legitimate hope that they will ultimately prevail. Personally, I would love to see the CFPB continue to paint a bulls-eye on the forehead given the change in contol of Congress effected yesterday. The more examples of stained theories used to push ideological social engineering goals, the more reason for concerted action by Congress to put actual oversight on The Adjustment Bureau, and the more likelihood that wing-clipping will occur, even if it has to wait for a change in the White House in January 2017.
Culture wars aren't won overnight. Banks are in it for the long haul.
CFPB Delenda Est!