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The Man Who Played a Central Role in the Passage of the Fair Housing Act

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

All of us in housing and housing finance strive to promote and protect the principle of fairness in America. In doing our work, we are indebted to leaders who decades ago shepherded our nation's highest ideals through the passage of the long-overdue and hard-earned Fair Housing Act of 1968.

One such person was the late Stephen J. Pollak, a prominent official in the 1960s-era U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, who passed away in February at the age of 95.

Pollak's life will be celebrated at a special gathering this week in DOJ’s Washington headquarters.

As our friend and collaborating colleague at K&L Gates, Paul Hancock, who will attend the event, reflected on Pollak's outsized role: While many events led to the passage of the historic Fair Housing Act, it may not have happened but for the efforts of Pollak, because he brought opposing views together to form a compromise that became law.

In the days immediately following the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, President Lyndon Johnson put pressure on Congress to pass the proposed Fair Housing Act which had to date floundered.

Pollak later wrote about the frantic, eleventh-hour negotiations on Capitol Hill that led to the bill which both sides of the aisle could agree upon:

“I again put myself in the position of being the scribe and was able to maintain some coherency to the legislation in the midst of great confusion … There was really a wild concatenation of discussions about changes in the Fair Housing bill. I kept the existing draft in front of me and methodically and ploddingly kept moving through it, sort of being unwilling to hear the conflicting suggestions so that the bill wouldn't just entirely blow into smithereens. In the end I shoved the draft into Senator Dirksen's hand as he went running out on the floor, and that was the bill that was then introduced by him and on which cloture was ultimately voted."

The intellect and commitment of this Yale-educated lawyer was a driving force in the creation of greater fairness, equality, and civil rights for all.

To read more about Stephen Pollak's remarkable life and contributions see the this blog post by Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke: