City of Cleburne, Texas v. Cleburne Living Center, Inc.
473 U.S. 432 (1985)
CLC wanted to build a home for
the mentally disabled in Cleburne. Cleburne's zoning regulations required
that a special use permit, renewable annually, was required for the
construction of hospitals "for the insane or feeble-minded, or
alcoholics or drug addicts, or penal or correctional institutions."
CLC requested a permit. It
CLC sued, claiming that the
zoning ordinance was an unconstitutional violation of the Equal
Protection Clause of the 14th
The zoning ordinance created
two classes, the mentally disabled and those that weren't, and CLC argued
it needlessly discriminated against those that were.
The Trial Court found for
Cleburne. CLC appealed.
The Trial Court found that that
the mentally retarded were neither a suspect nor a quasi-suspect class and therefore the rational basis
test should be applied.
The Court held that the
ordinance was rationally related to the city's legitimate interest in
"the legal responsibility of CLC and its residents, the safety and
fears of residents in the adjoining neighborhood," and the number of
people to be housed in the home.
The Appellate Court reversed.
The Appellate Court found
that mental retardation was a quasi-suspect class and therefore intermediate scrutiny should be applied to the ordinance.
The Court found that under intermediate
scrutiny, the ordinance was
unconstitutional on its face and as applied.
The US Supreme Court affirmed.
The US Supreme Court found
that mentally retarded were not a suspect or quasi-suspect class because they are a "large and diversified group" amply
protected by state and federal legislatures.
That means that in order to
pass constitutional muster, the ordinance would just require a rational
However, the Court found
that the ordinance violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment
because no rational basis for the
discriminatory classification could be shown, and in the absence of such
justification, the classification appeared to be based on irrational
prejudice against the mentally retarded.
Would the unjustifiable
prejudices of neighbors qualify as a rational basis for the State to segregate the mentally
In this case, the answer
See also Palmore v.
Sidoti (466 U.S. 429 (1984)).
In general, the courts rarely
overturn a law because it can't meet the rational basis test. The bar is usually pretty low.