Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter reacts to Pepsi commercial

The daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr. has harsh words for a Pepsi commercial featuring Kendall Jenner that the company quickly pulled after an outpouring of criticism. Bernice King tweeted a photo of police pushing her father with this comment: “If only Daddy would have known about the power of Pepsi.” Details available in this story at Mashable.

Attorneys Recall Role of Law in Events of 1968

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Attorney Charles Carpenter, Circuit Court Judge D’Army Bailey, former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton and attorney David Caywood talked about the law, attorneys and the effect of both on Memphis in the 1960s at a Black Law Students Association forum at the University of Memphis law school.

David Caywood still remembers the memorandum of understanding that almost settled the 1968 sanitation workers strike before Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.

To Caywood, the attorneys and their work during the more dramatic events of the strike are evidence that the law – and its practice as the basis for “rational arguments” – could have stopped the strike short of its violent climax.

Circuit Court Judge D’Army Bailey said his legal training gave him skills that he still sees as a way to “challenge and disrupt” society.

Caywood and Bailey were part of the panel discussion “Voices of Civil Rights” at the Cecil C. Humphreys University of Memphis School of Law. The discussion, presented by the Black Law Students Association chapter, was held Feb. 19.

Caywood had drafted a proposed settlement of the strike as an attorney at Burch, Porter and Johnson. He watched the labor dispute rapidly grow into a much larger movement and saw City Hall’s reaction to that movement intensify.

He presented the proposal to Jerry Wurf, international head of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the union representing the striking sanitation workers. Much to his surprise, Wurf signed it immediately.

“I felt like the little dog that chased the fire truck down the street and finally caught the fire truck,” Caywood said. “Now what do I do with it?”

He took the settlement to Memphis Mayor Henry Loeb, who adamantly refused to sign it. Loeb didn’t want to allow the workers to have union dues deducted from their city paychecks automatically, something the city did for teachers. Loeb countered that the education association representing those teachers was not a labor union.

“I said, ‘Mr. Loeb, if you don’t sign this thing, something bad could happen,’” Caywood remembered. “He almost physically threw me out of his office. He thought I was threatening him.”

As the strike continued, Bailey was heading a law student organization in Massachusetts. That group sent law students to Memphis to assist in the legal work of the conflict spinning off from the strike.

“Law students were in the center of these movements,” Bailey said. “Lawyers were in the center of these movements.”

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Supreme Court Could Limit Discrimination Claims in Fair Housing Case

People sing "We Shall Overcome" at the conclusion of the King Center's 47th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Service in Atlanta, Jan. 19, 2015. Reuters/ Christopher Aluka Berry

People sing “We Shall Overcome” at the conclusion of the King Center’s 47th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Service in Atlanta, Jan. 19, 2015. Reuters/ Christopher Aluka Berry

In the days after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., Congress moved quickly to pass a civil rights law that prohibits housing discrimination, the Fair Housing Act of 1968. On Wednesday, days after the commemoration of King’s birthday, the Supreme Court considers arguments about the scope of that law, in a case that has rallied mortgage lenders, insurers and real estate developers on one side, and civil rights advocates and dozens of cities and states on the other.

The justices will weigh whether the Fair Housing Act bars only intentional discrimination, or whether discriminatory effects, regardless of intent, are illegal, too. The court’s ruling could upend four decades of precedent in the lower courts, and deal a major blow to fair housing advocates, who argue that policies that seem neutral continue to harm protected groups.

“Housing lies at the fulcrum of civil rights,” said John Relman, an attorney for the National Fair Housing Alliance. “Where you live affects the opportunities that you have for jobs, for better schools, for connections that allow you to have opportunity in your life.”

The case, Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, marks the third since 2011 that the Supreme Court has agreed to examine the issue of discriminatory effects — or, “disparate impact” — in the context of the Fair Housing Act. Two other cases were settled before they reached the justices. The high court’s continued interest in the issue has civil rights advocates worried, since 11 circuit courts have already upheld plaintiffs’ right to sue over disparate impact.

The National Fair Housing Alliance catalogued 27,352 housing discrimination complaints nationwide in its most recent annual report, though the organization estimates that 4 million violations occur each year.

Intentional discrimination can be difficult to prove, housing attorneys say, because “smoking guns” are less prevalent today than 50 years ago. The disparate standard, however, has been used to challenge zoning ordinances that block multi-family housing units, as well as policies that might exclude domestic violence victims from apartment complexes. The Obama administration has employed the disparate impact theory to settle fair-lending cases with major banks, including a $335 million settlement with Countrywide in 2013.

That same year, the Department of Housing and Urban Development issued its first rule on how to analyze disparate impact claims.

“Without question the court is poised to do damage to a key means of vindicating claims under the Fair Housing Act,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs disagrees. In a brief to the court signed by the state’s attorney general, Texas argues that the text of the law “unambiguously requires intentional discrimination,” and that a disparate impact standard “sweeps in defendants who are entirely blameless.”

The case arises out of Dallas, and centers on the state’s allocation of tax credits to build affordable housing units. The Inclusive Communities Project, which advocates for integrated neighborhoods, has criticized the state’s approach as limiting low-income black families from being able to move to areas with better opportunities. The group sued the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA), arguing that the state disproportionately slated affordable housing units for minority neighborhoods, and disproportionately denied tax credits for units in predominantly white neighborhoods.

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