The Supreme Court agreed Friday to consider whether states, or only the federal government, may investigate the lending practices of national banks.
The justices said they are stepping into a dispute between New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, on one side, and the federal Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and an organization that represents federally chartered commercial banks, on the other. It centers on an investigation that began in 2005 under Cuomo's predecessor, Eliot Spitzer.
Spitzer wanted to know whether minorities were being charged higher interest rates on home mortgage loans, a practice that is prohibited under various state and federal laws.
A federal judge blocked the probe, saying responsibility for such investigations rests with the comptroller's office, a part of the Treasury Department, and other federal agencies. The federal appeals court in New York upheld the ruling.
The issue for the Court is whether federal regulations drawn up by the comptroller prohibit states from enforcing their own state laws against those banks.
The other 49 states are backing Cuomo, as are the National Association of Realtors and a dozen fair housing and civil rights groups.
Lower federal courts said New York could not enforce state fair lending laws against national banks or their operating subsidiaries by issuing subpoenas and bringing enforcement actions against them.
Both the Clearing House Association, which represents the banks, and the comptroller said that the attorney general was interfering with their supervisory powers.
Spitzer was New York's attorney general until he became governor in 2007. He resigned last year in a sex scandal.
The case is Cuomo v. The Clearing House Association, 08-453.
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