Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Fair Housing Council v. Roommate.com (9th Cir. - May 15, 2007)

You know you've got an interesting opinion when each judge on the panel feels the need to write separately.

You probably know about roommates.com, allows individuals to both post and search for potential roommates. Under the Fair Housing Act, one can't publicize various preferences (e.g., "Whites Only", "Men Only"), and publishers are liable if they do. The question here is whether the Communications Decency Act immunizes roommates.com from publicizing the discriminatory preferences of its posters.

Judge Kozinski writes the majority opinion, and holds therein that roommates.com might be liable under the FHA for various drop-down menus and other devices it invented that permit users to specify discriminatory preferences (e.g., "I will live with children" or "I will not live with children"), but isn't liable for the "additional comments" section, which is often used to specify additional discriminatory preferences. Judge Reinhardt concurs with the first part but dissents from the second, while Judge Ikuta concurs in both holdings but does not agree with Judge Kozinski's discussion in Part II (including, inter alia, a hypothetical discussion regarding whether a www.harassthem.com website would be immunized under the CDA).

So an interesting case, and on an interesting issue. Judges Kozinski and Reinhardt write well, as usual. So it's definitely an opinion worth reading.

Plus, as with any Judge Kozinski opinion, don't overlook the footnotes. Which often make one smile. I liked the first footnote, which amply demostrates the geeky -- but lovable -- nature of both Judge Kozinski and his clerks by translating Andy Warhol's aphorism into the modern era by saying that everyone in the computer age will eventually "enjoy a trillion or so nanoseconds of fame". Funny. (Plus, a tangential slam on bloggers.) Also, don't miss footnotes 10 and 11 (and the accompanying sentence in the text). You gotta love Alex.