Texas federal judge blocks updated fair lending rules

By Nate Raymond

(Reuters) – A federal judge in Texas on Friday blocked enforcement of new regulations adopted during the Biden administration that sought to overhaul how lenders extend loans and other services to low- and moderate-income Americans.

U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk in Amarillo, Texas, sided with banking and business groups including the American Bankers Association and U.S. Chamber of Commerce in finding the new rules ran afoul of the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977.

The judge, an appointee of Republican former President Donald Trump, issued a preliminary injunction blocking their enforcement before they could take effect Monday. The agencies and trade groups did not respond to requests for comment.

The Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency last year updated their rules enforcing the 1977 fair lending law, which seeks to ensure banks lend in their local communities.

Conceived to prevent red lining – a discriminatory practice where banks refuse or offer only limited lending to certain areas or populations, primarily minorities – CRA regulations gauge how well banks service areas where they operate.

The new rules broadened the geographies in which lenders were be required to extend loans and other services to low-income Americans, a change regulators said was needed to reflect the rise of online banking and the decline of bank branches.

But Kacsmaryk agreed with the business and banking groups who had sued in February in finding the new regulations went beyond what the 1977 law authorized.

He said the rules went too far by allowing banks be assessed not just in the geographic areas they maintain physical branches but also in other areas in which they conduct retail lending and by allowing the regulators to assess the availability of a bank’s deposit products, not just credit, in a community.

Kacsmaryk said the agencies never before claimed authority to assess banks wherever they conducted retail lending. “On the contrary, they have — since 1978 — limited themselves to areas surrounding deposit-taking facilities,” he said.

Kacsmaryk is the lone active judge in Amarillo, helping make his courthouse a favored venue for conservative litigants challenging federal government policies during President Joe Biden’s administration.

He gained national attention last year when he suspended approval of the abortion pill mifepristone. The U.S. Supreme Court has allowed the pill to remain on the market while it considers the case, which it heard arguments in on Tuesday.

The U.S. Judicial Conference, the judiciary’s policymaking body, earlier this month adopted a discretionary policy that aims to ensure cases challenging laws are randomly assigned judges and cannot be “judge shopped” by litigants to sympathetic jurists in single-judge courts.

(This story has been refiled to fix the link to the ruling in paragraph 3)


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