Friday, February 03, 2006

Crying Baby Keeps Mrs. Murphy Up All Night

Just a quick though from Civil Rights class the other day. We were discussing the Fair Housing Act and the prof. asked if we thought the Mrs. Murphy exemption and the private club exemption were good ideas or bad ones. A number of people said they thought the exemptions should exist so that there would be a place for racism to "vent"; a place away from the general public. Others said this was a bad idea because if racism is bad, it is bad everywhere. The most interesting comments to me, however, were from the students who were very adamant that the exemptions should go, but were sympathetic to the defendants in Oxford House because the plaintiffs in that case were recovering drug addicts, not members of a racial minority. One student said she could understand why the community might not want the recovering addicts in the neighborhood. Another student implied it would be legitimate for an elderly couple to avoid renting to potential tenants that have children that might cry at night. No one raised the point that such discrimination is as much in violation of the statute as race discrimination, even though these two students were clearly not as sympathetic to statutory protections for the disabled (as the recovering drug addicts were) or based on familial status. And I was thinking that I wouldn't want to be told I couldn't discriminate on the basis of sex in picking an apartment-mate now or in the future. So, perhaps the problem is not solely with the exemptions themselves. Perhaps the breadth of the exemption should be inversely related to the number of protected classes. The counter-argument is, I suppose, that this keeps our determination of what constitutes "impermissible discrimination" static. But I think it could also stand for the proposition that there are some discriminations based on sex, familial status and disability that might be legitimate. At least, a number of students in my class seemed to find them less morally reprehensible than discrimination based on race.


Scott said...

No need to be cowardly about it. I'm certain there are some discriminations based on race that might also be legitimate, though whether, that notwithstanding, the government should allow such things is another question.

Charles Iragui said...

On a related subject, I recommend a book that was published just last year, Slave Nation, which outlines the very real sense in which defense of slavery was a, perhaps THE, crucial cause of the American Revolution. The 1772 King's Bench decision in Somerset declared slavery an unenforceable property right under Common Law. The reaction in the southern states was electric... The book convincingly demonstrates that Massachusetts John Adams made a fateful bargain with the Virginians and Carolinians, before the war even started, to take freedom for slaves off the table.

Sarah Kohrs said...

Not sure there are legitimate discriminations based on race in the area of housing (which is the only area the post was focused on). Could you give me an example?

Sounds interesting, although not a perspective I've ever heard before.

Charles Iragui said...


Though I sympathize with the need for privacy in the home (see 4th Am), I too don't see why even in the home one should be able to discriminate on race. If you don't want a member of some group in your house, don't rent a room. The only objection to this is that racism becomes a luxury, available to those who do not need the income from renting a room in one's house. However, simply stating that the rich have more capacity to be capricious does not seem to me to justify forcing a disfavored minority to suffer discrimination not based on behavior.

We have established a rule that where commerce is involved, one loses the right to capricious hatreds - why should this be an exception?


Sarah Kohrs said...

I agree with you. My point was that if we include a number of other protected classes - familial status, sex, disability, etc. - then there are more reasons to give exceptions than if the statutes protect only race.