Fair Lending – Is it still “hot”?

Regrettably, the most overt forms of discrimination persist; those incidents that we should read about in history books still manage to find their way onto the front pages of our newspapers. We still see cross-burnings across the nation’s heartland. We still see hate-fueled violence carried out in our biggest cities and in our smallest towns. We just recently read of a justice of the peace in Louisiana who saw it as his prerogative to refuse to marry interracial couples. These incidents make us pause, shake our heads and wonder how they continue in the 21st century.

Yet just as dangerous as those flagrant acts of bigotry are those more subtle forms of discrimination that permeate so many of our interactions and institutions, and continue to stand as barriers to our nation’s greatest promise of equal justice for all. Lending discrimination falls into this category – it’s discrimination with a smile, and it tears communities apart. (Speech by Attorney General Eric Holder on January 14, 2010.)

When the bank regulatory agencies find a pattern or practice of fair lending problems they are required to refer the bank to the Department of Justice (DOJ). In some cases DOJ conducts their own investigation. Once DOJ completes their investigation they prepare to file suit in federal court. But before they file suit, DOJ is required to attempt to settle the case. In every case the banks sign a consent decree rather than fight DOJ in federal court.

During the years of the Clinton Administration DOJ completed 16 consent decrees. There were 9 consent decrees during the Bush administration. So far in the Obama administration a couple consent decrees have been completed, but reportedly there are numerous cases pending.

Yes. You could say fair lending remains “hot.”

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