November 12, 2007

Amicus Brief Alert

One of my favorite Gmail features is Google Alerts. I created at Alert for “Fallows Pew” a while ago, which directs Google to scour the web and send me an email with the URLs of new matches as it finds them. An unusual Alert caught my eye last week — a reference to an Amicus Brief for the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals – so, of course I clicked on it to see why my name would appear.

I dredged through the legalese to discover that a district court ruling about a year ago had provided immunity to websites like Craigslist from liability under the Fair Housing Act, regarding discriminatory housing practices. Specifically, the court ruled that Craigslist couldn’t be held liable for discriminatory housing ads that were posted on Craigslist by others.

The new brief was arguing to the Court of Appeals that just as newspapers were held liable for violations of the FHA in their classified advertising, so should ISPs like Craigslist be held liable for their on-line advertising. (This is my basic distillation of the 24 pages of argument, and it is leaving out some twists and turns behind the earlier district court ruling. Any misinterpretations entirely my own.)

My own cameo appearance came on p. 18 of the brief, where my data memo was offered as evidence of how the world has changed, and how much on-line housing advertising has increased. They wrote, “thirty-nine percent of internet users have looked online to search for housing, up from 34% in 2004 and 27% in 2000.” These data came from “Internet Users In Search of a Home.”

Well, it’s for the Court of Appeals to decide how things will go this time. I was glad to be noticed by the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, and grateful to Google Alerts for alerting me to my small role.