University of Chicago Law Review

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Making judgments requires recognizing patterns—paying attention and picking out recurrent features in a noisy environment. Judge Diane Wood’s opinion in Tyus v Urban Search Management1 is a masterwork in pattern recognition at several levels. It speaks to the need for legal doctrines capable of reaching subtle and cumulative acts of discrimination that continue to limit opportunities and stand in the way of the “truly integrated and balanced living patterns”2 that were part of the original vision of the federal Fair Housing Act3 (FHA).

Tyus involved advertising campaigns used to market The New York, an upscale Chicago apartment building located on North Lake Shore Drive. Plaintiffs alleged that the depiction of exclusively White human models in the defendant’s ads (which appeared in newspapers and brochures, and on billboards) violated the FHA. Their cause of action hinged on whether the pat-tern of depictions indicated a racial preference (or an intention to make such a preference) to an ordinary reader.4 Judge Wood’s opinion for a unanimous Seventh Circuit panel (joined by then–Chief Judge Richard Posner and Judge Frank Easterbrook) identified reversible errors that interfered with the plaintiffs’ opportunity to make this showing at trial.5

In this brief Essay, I will consider the centrality of pattern recognition to legal efforts to combat discrimination. Individual acts that are easy to ignore or dismiss can accumulate to entrench and inscribe systematic disadvantage. The result is no less harmful for having diffuse causes, but it is harder to address. Tyus shows how recognizing the significance of patterns is integral to upholding societal commitments to nondiscriminatory access not only to housing, but also to the apparatus of justice.

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