The U.S. Supreme Court has a stack of cases on its docket this session that should concern environmentalists, notably the suite of cases aimed at limiting the government’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases, and the case involving an oil billionaire who wants to dump even more of his dirty money into politics. Here’s one more to add to that list: Mount Holly Citizens in Action v. Township of Mount Holly, on the calendar for Dec. 4. Environmental justice advocates and civil rights activists hope it never makes it before the high bench.
Residents of the Gardens, a predominantly African American and Latino neighborhood in Mount Holly, N.J., brought the case against the township's governing officials. Those officials made plans in 2003 to demolish the entire Gardens neighborhood, saying it was too blighted to remain, so that they could build new, expensive housing in its place. They planned this “to save the people from that neighborhood,” as one unnamed former township official told Adam Serwer in his in-depth report on the case for MSNBC. (For a fuller profile of the neighborhood and the dispute, I highly recommend reading his story.)
But while this protracted legal battle started out as a group of residents fighting to save their homes, it has become a referendum on a pivotal legal standard under civil rights law. That legal standard, called “disparate impact,” allows a minority group to sue if it can prove that the effects of plans or policies will result in racial discrimination -- without having to prove that planners or policymakers intentionally set out to discriminate.