Oregon’s ban on homebuyer love letters would be ruled unconstitutional if a judge accepts a deal the state has struck with the brokerage that filed suit against the ban last year.

The state of Oregon would accept a court ruling that its halted ban on homebuyer love letters is unconstitutional, dealing a potential final blow to advocates who hoped the law would reduce discrimination by sellers.

Oregon’s love letter ban, which went into effect in January before being paused in March, would be held to violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution if U.S. District Judge Marco A. Hernandez agrees to adopt language suggested Friday by the state’s attorney general and real estate commissioner. 

The proposed ruling is the result of an agreement the state struck in recent weeks with Total Real Estate Group, and represents “a complete and final settlement” of the brokerage’s claims against the state, the filing states.

“This is ultimately a significant victory for free speech and for freedom of opportunity,” Daniel Ortner, an attorney representing the Oregon-based brokerage, told Inman in an email. “Oregon has recognized that it would be futile to continue to fight to suppress the lawful, truthful, and helpful information contained in love letters.”

Oregon Real Estate Agency Commissioner Steve Strode and a spokesperson for the Oregon attorney general’s office did not immediately provide a comment Monday to Inman.

Enforcement of the law has been halted since March. In his ruling at the time that granted a preliminary injunction against the law, Hernandez indicated that the legal challenge was likely to succeed in the end.

As a result of this, Ortner wrote that he has “no reason” to think the judge will not accept the state’s proposed judgment. He added that it’s his impression that Oregon does not intend to keep fighting, nor would it appeal the judge’s eventual decision.

As it made its way through the Oregon Legislature last year, the law’s advocates said these so-called “love letters” — which buyers use to make personal pleas to sellers — can be used to discriminate against people in protected groups.

The letters often contain personal information about buyers, and can disclose their race, sex, religion or family situation.

This type of discrimination is already banned under the Fair Housing Act, but the law’s advocates argue that love letters provide the seller with more than enough information to discriminate — unconsciously or otherwise.

“We are limiting transmission of communications that are not relevant and could potentially be breaking fair housing laws,” Democratic state Rep. Mark Meek, who sponsored the legislation in Oregon, told USA Today last year.

Oregon was the first state in the country to sign a ban on love letters into law. Since the ban passed last year, similar proposals have popped up in other statehouses.

An effort to pass a narrower version in the neighboring state of Washington — one that would only ban love letters that contained discriminatory information — fell short of becoming law earlier this year. Advocates told Inman at the time that they intend to try again in a future session.

A Democratic lawmaker in Rhode Island filed a bill last month that would ban homebuyer love letters in her state, according to local news station WPRI-TV.

Ortner, who works for libertarian legal group Pacific Legal Foundation, said he hopes that the Oregon case deters further efforts to restrict the use of love letters.

“Oregon’s doomed effort to ban communication between buyers and sellers out of a speculative fear of discrimination should be a warning signal to other states like Rhode Island that are considering similar laws,” Ortner said.

Email Daniel Houston

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