Village of Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Development Corp.
429 U.S. 252 (1977)

  • MHDC was attempting to build some low-income housing in Arlington Heights. They applied to have some land rezoned from single-family to multi-family, but Arlington Heights denied the application.
  • MHDC sued, claiming that the denial was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
    • MHDC argued that because of low-income housing demographics, the denial of the permit had a disproportionate effect on minorities.
  • The US Supreme Court found for Arlington Heights and found that the zoning ordinance was constitutional.
    • The US Supreme Court applied the Disparate Impact Test to determine whether the ordinance was actually based on a discriminatory intent (aka a discriminatory purpose).
      • In the Disparate Impact Test, the challenging party has the burden of showing that:
        • The official action affects a protected class in greater proportion than others, and if such is established,
        • The official action was intended to discriminate against a suspect or protected class.
    • The Court suggested the following factors be used to determine if there was discriminatory intent:
      • Historical background of decisions under the official action, particularly if unequally applied in situations involving race.
      • The specific sequences of events leading up to the decision challenged in the case.
      • Departures from normal procedures in making decisions.
      • Inconsistent substantive decisions.
      • The legislative history where there are contemporary statements made by the governmental body who created the official action.
    • Based on the factors they laid out, the Court found that in this case, the zoning ordinance did not show a discriminatory intent.
    • The Court declined to use the standard, Strict Scrutiny test to determine if the zoning ordinance was constitutional.
      • The difference is that Strict Scrutiny is limited to official conduct that on its face is based on a suspect classification. Here the zoning ordinance was neutral and didn’t mention race at all.