In Seattle, social justice trumps fundamental rights

Yesterday, the Seattle Times ran my op-ed about our lawsuit challenging a Seattle law that forbids landlords from choosing their own tenants. In Yim v. City of Seattle, we argue that the city has violated due process rights and rights against uncompensated government takings.

Seattle’s “first in time” rule requires landlords to offer vacant units to the first qualified applicant. Landlords can set general criteria in advance, like credit history or “no smoking,” but otherwise they lack all discretion over whom they rent to. The purpose of the rule is two-fold: to combat “unconscious bias” and to relieve the city of proving intentional discrimination.

The due-process problem is clear. As a nation, we’ve long embraced the notion inherent in personal liberty that “it is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.” The Seattle law flips this formula by presuming prejudice in every landlord across the city in order to catch the handful guilty of discrimination. As for preventing unconscious bias,  “the legitimacy of regulating the human subconscious is shaky at best.”

The law also takes property without compensating the owner as the constitution requires. The op-ed says: “At its core, property is not an object–it is a family of individual rights associated with an object. Property thus includes the rights to sell or lease to whom we choose, to exclude others, and to use the things we own. When government obliterates one of these fundamental attributes of property ownership, it has taken a property right as surely as if it had seized a house.” If Seattle wants to snatch your right to choose who will live on your property–however noble their cause–they’ll have to pay for it.