Tuesday, September 5, 2006
Who has standing to bring claims of racially motivated zoning decisions? In a recent opinion, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that black residents of Darby Township, near Philadelphia, “have not asserted an actual injury that would confer constitutional standing upon them” to have the federal courts hear their claims that the local government “made land use decisions in order to limit the effect of the African-American vote in Darby Township.” Taliaferro v. Darby Township Zoning Bd., slip op. at 6, No. 05-02253, 2006 WL 2294839 (3d Cir. Aug. 10, 2006). The plaintiffs alleged that the government approved a zoning change to allow commercial development instead of residential development, in order to discourage new residences that would likely be occupied by African Americans. While the Third Circuit concluded that there was no standing for the claim of harm to political power, the Court did allow standing for claims of neighbors that the zoning change would decrease their property values.
This decision is the latest in the line of restrictive standing decisions that prevent important land use claims from being heard by the federal courts. When a local government uses land use law to keep out unwanted people, it may be very difficult for advocates to find a specific plaintiff with an “injury” that is “concrete” and “particularized” enough grant standing. Thus even warranted claims of racism and unlawful exclusion can remain unchallenged …