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Massachusetts Appeals Court rejects ‘grandfathering’ term due to racist origins
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Massachusetts Appeals Court rejects ‘grandfathering’ term due to racist origins

The Massachusetts Appeals Court has said that it will no longer use the term “grandfathering” because of its racist origins. The court included its reasoning in a footnote to a decision published on Monday.

The case involved a zoning dispute between the owners of adjacent waterfront parcels in Gloucester, Massachusetts. The defendants sought to tear down and replace a dilapidated garage on their property in 2017, which the zoning board of appeals (ZBA) had unanimously approved. The plaintiff challenged this approval, and the Superior Court found that the defendants needed variance in the height of the garage. The Appeals Court ultimately determined that no variances were needed, entering a judgment in favor of the defendants.

In reaching its decision, the court discussed the protections provided to all structures predating applicable zoning restrictions. In footnote 11, the court stated that these protections were commonly known as “grandfathering.” The court explained that it would no longer use the term because of its racist origins, writing:

We decline to use that term, however, because we acknowledge that it has racist origins. Specifically, the phrase “grandfather clause” originally referred to provisions adopted by some States after the Civil War in an effort to disenfranchise African-American voters by requiring voters to pass literacy tests or meet other significant qualifications, while exempting from such requirements those who were descendants of men who were eligible to vote prior to 1867.

The court’s decision to stop using the term “grandfathering” follows a series of conversations and decisions on racism and outdated terminology throughout the country. In New Jersey, Senate Bill 855, which was passed by both houses in July, would change the term of elected county officials from “freeholders” to “commissioners.” Confederate statues in several states have also been removed.