This Article describes the connection between wealth inequality and the increasing structural racism in the U.S. tax system since the 1980s. A long-term sociological view (the why) reveals the historical racialization of wealth and a shift in the tax system overall beginning around 1980 to protect and exacerbate wealth inequality, which has been fueled by racial animus and anxiety. A critical tax view (the how) highlights a shift over the same time period at both federal and state levels from taxes on wealth, to taxes on income, and then to taxes on consumption—from greater to less progressivity. Both of these shifts disproportionately benefit Whites while disproportionately burdening Blacks and other people of color.
This Article examines the constitutionality of statutes which allow courts to transfer outstanding legal financial obligations to private debt collection agencies. In Washington State, the clerk of courts can transfer the legal financial obligation of a formerly incarcerated person if he or she is only thirty days late making a payment. Upon transfer, the debt collection agencies can assess a “collection fee” of up to 50% of the first $100.000 of the unpaid legal financial obligation, and up to 35% of the unpaid debt over $100,000. This fee becomes part of the LFO debt imposed at sentencing, and like that debt, must also be paid in full. Interest accrues at 12% per annum, there is no account for a LFO debtor’s indigence or ability to pay, and the collection fee is not dischargeable in bankruptcy. Not only do these collection fees further consign a formerly incarcerated person to a lifetime of poverty and exacerbate already-severe barriers to community re-entry, but they increase the risks for re-arrest and re-incarceration. Equally troubling is that these fees extend the time during which an ex-offender is tethered to the criminal justice system. This Article argues that Washington State’s collection agency referral law, and similar laws in other states, may violate constitutional due process and excessive fine edicts.
Having an eviction record “blacklists” tenants from finding future housing. Even renters with mere eviction filings—not eviction orders—on their records face the harsh collateral consequences of eviction. This Note argues that eviction records should be sealed at filing and only released into the public record if a landlord prevails in court. Juvenile record expungement mechanisms in Illinois serve as a model for one way to protect people with eviction records. Recent updates to the Illinois juvenile expungement process provided for the automatic expungement of certain records and strengthened the confidentiality protections of juvenile records. Illinois protects juvenile records because it recognizes that a young person’s behavior does not define how he or she will act as an adult. Similarly, evictions due to foreclosure, discrimination, or retaliation, for example, do not predict a tenant’s future behavior. Reliance on these records is misplaced. Sealing eviction records at the point of filing and holding private screening companies accountable for reporting sealed records would protect tenants who are currently haunted by the ghost of eviction without ever having been evicted.
Chicago’s Little Village community bears the heavy burden of environmental injustice and racism. The residents are mostly immigrants and people of color who live with low levels of income, limited access to healthcare, and disproportionate levels of dangerous air pollution. Before its retirement, Little Village’s Crawford coal-burning power plant was the lead source of air pollution, contributing to 41 deaths, 550 emergency room visits, and 2,800 asthma attacks per year. After the plant’s retirement, community members wanted a say on the future use of the lot, only to be closed out when a corporation, Hilco Redevelopment Partners, bought the lot to build a warehouse that would house hundreds of diesel trucks. At every stage in the process, Hilco enjoyed the advantage of a shockingly antiquated zoning code that has systematically transformed Little Village into a hotbed of environmental hardship and to this day provides miniscule room for impacted residents to vocalize their concerns. This Note argues that Chicago’s zoning code must be amended to deliver environmental justice to communities like Little Village. Following the leadership of other cities across the United States, the City of Chicago should reform the zoning system with new requirements for community engagement, environmental justice analysis, and transparency. If Chicago does not counteract the discriminatory effects of an unjust, undemocratic zoning code, then the people with the narrowest means for seeking political, economic, and medical relief will continue to suffer from lopsided levels of environmental degradation.