Marqueece Harris-Dawson Really Got To The Heart Of The City’s Role In The Conflict Between Tenants And Landlords When Speaking Yesterday About The Just Cause Eviction Ordinance

Yesterday during the LA City Council’s discussion of the eviction moratorium Marqueece Harris-Dawson quietly made a really important and really radical point when questioning the deputy city attorney in attendance. He asked her if the law would mean that a landlord could evict a tenant for any reason “and [the City of Los Angeles will help [them].” She responded that “the City would be permitting that to happen.” The difference of course is that in MHD’s version the City plays an active role, the role of violent enforcer,1 whereas in the DCA’s version the City is like a passive referee, whose role is merely to regulate voluntary transactions between private parties.

He’s right, of course, and she’s lying. And I don’t mean she’s mistaken. The principle MHD is referring to is well-known to lawyers. It’s the principle on which the Supreme Court decided Shelley v. Kraemer. This is popularly known as the case which outlawed racial restrictions in real estate transactions, but that’s not exactly right. What the case did was outlaw government enforcement of racial restrictions in real estate contracts. Without state enforcement, which necessarily means violent enforcement, racially restrictive contracts, many of which still exist, are meaningless.

Every lawyer knows Shelley v. Kraemer, so the DCA didn’t fail to understand MHD’s point, she chose not to understand it. Her job is to serve the interests of the ruling class, and it’s in their interest to have the law seen as a neutral arbiter, not on anyone’s side, rather than as a violent tool serving the same interests. Of course, MHD’s job, at least in some defensible sense, is also to serve the ruling class. This comment isn’t any kind of call to arms, but coming from someone who’s not just a councilmember but is a councilmember able to work with his colleagues to pass ordinances it’s much more than nothing, and I appreciate it.

  1. I know he didn’t mention violent enforcement, but that’s the only way in which the City helps landlords evict tenants. They have no other assistance to offer. This is the only thing he could have meant.

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