City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center

The Facts

The city of Cleburne refused to grant a special use permit to a proposed group home for mentally retarded adults, despite exempting from the permitting requirement other group dwellings, such as fraternity and sorority houses, nursing homes and boarding houses. Seeking to justify its refusal, the city offered a litany of dubious explanations, including its supposed concerns that the home was to be located in a five-hundred-year flood plain from which residents might not be able to escape and that students at a nearby junior high school might harass the residents of the home. The group home challenged the denial of the permit under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

The Decision

The U.S. Supreme Court held that the denial of the permit violated the Equal Protection Clause. The majority remarked on the absence of record evidence to support the government’s stated concerns that the group home would “pose any special threat to the city’s legitimate interests” and thus rejected the assertion that the city’s actions were “really motivated by a desire to protect the mentally retarded.”