By: Lawrence M. Friedman In his dissenting opinion in Fisher v. University of Texas, Justice Alito argues that the Court indulged the university’s “plea for deference” in the application of strict scrutiny to its race-based affirmative action program. And he’s probably right, too: the scrutiny the majority applied in Fisher seems less strict than the scrutiny the Court historically has given race-based classifications. But this isn’t to say that the result Alito would have reached—striking down the university’s plan—is also right. For he fails to appreciate that, just as equal protection doctrine protects only individuals who are similarly situated, strict scrutiny applies in the same way only in similarly situated cases. In other words, context matters—and context explains why higher education affirmative action programs may survive judicial review where the governmental use of race in other contexts would not.
Contributing Editor: John MaraThe Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968 with the purpose of outlawing discrimination by a property owner when renting or selling a dwelling based on “race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin.” Section 3604(c) of the Fair Housing Act, which deals specifically with discriminatory advertising practices, prohibits housing advertisements through any medium that show “any preference, limitation, or discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin.” Since the passage of that act, applying section 3604(c) has become more difficult due to issues such as internet advertising and First Amendment challenges. This Note examines the federal court system’s interpretation of section 3604(c) of the Fair Housing Act. To determine whether an advertisement has violated section 3604(c), the courts use the “ordinary reader” test to determine whether an “ordinary reader would understand an advertisement to suggest a preference for or against a protected group.” In Ragin v. New York Times Company, the Second Circuit interpreted the term “preference” to mean “any ad that would discourage an ordinary reader of a particular race.” The Seventh Circuit also equated the word “preference” with discouraging an ordinary reader in Jancik v. Department of Housing & Urban Development. However, in Miami Valley Fair Housing Center, Inc. v. Connor Group, the Sixth Circuit declined to follow the Second and Seventh Circuits, ruling that the terms “preference” and “discourage” are not synonymous, and therefore the ordinary reader standard should apply any time an ordinary reader would believe an advertisement indicates a preference. These three decisions created a circuit split on the issue of whether the ordinary reader test applies to advertisements that discourage readers, or merely show a preference.