HUD officials barred from silencing housing opposition

In recent years, CIR has been on the forefront of legal efforts to protect this fundamental right against meddling bureaucrats and zealous ideologues who have resorted to anti-discrimination laws to stifle speech they deem threatening to their interests.

One of the most shocking examples of this abuse involves the use of federal housing discrimination law to suppress opposition to public housing projects. In 1993, Berkeley residents Joseph Deringer, his wife, Alexandra White, and neighbor Richard Graham learned of plans to convert the town’s Bel Air Hotel into a shelter for homeless people, including alcohol and drug abusers. The shelter abutted their property and was also near several liquor stores.

“THE FEDERAL ANTIDISCRIMINATION JUGGERNAUT STUMBLED RECENTLY, TRIPPED UP BY AN IMPEDIMENT CALLED THE FIRST AMENDMENT.”WALL STREET JOURNAL

The news prompted them to write a letter to the developer and set about making leaflets, speaking at town meetings, and generally protesting the construction. Unknowingly, however, they had stepped on a Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) regulation, based on the Fair Housing Act, that barred anyone from interfering with efforts to provide housing opportunities for racial minorities or the disabled.

The company running the Bel Air conversion filed a complaint with HUD alleging that White and the others were impairing their ability to ensure equal housing. The “Berkeley Three” first received a HUD notice that warned them of an impending $50,000 fine. Months of harassment from HUD followed, and these concerned citizens were forced to sue in San Francisco federal court to affirm their right to protest government actions.

JOSEPH DERINGER

The Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of the “Berkeley Three,” declaring that they had been involved in the “essence of First Amendment expression.” LaVera Gillespie, the director of the area’s branch of HUD during the investigation, was found personally liable for abridging the free speech rights of the three plaintiffs on the grounds that no reasonable person would have thought such an investigation to be lawful.

Read praise for the White victory:

Case Status: Victory. U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit affirmed district court order granting summary judgment.


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