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 was denied.
  • CLC sued, claiming that the zoning ordinance was an unconstitutional violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
    • 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. Cleburne appealed.
    • 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 basis.
    • 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 retarded?
        • In this case, the answer was no.
        • 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.