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Law School Case Brief

Moore v. E. Cleveland - 431 U.S. 494, 97 S. Ct. 1932 (1977)


Appropriate limits on substantive due process come not from drawing arbitrary lines but rather from careful respect for the teachings of history and solid recognition of the basic values that underlie our society. U.S. Supreme Court decisions establish that the Constitution protects the sanctity of the family precisely because the institution of the family is deeply rooted in U.S. history and tradition.


A housing ordinance in East Cleveland, Ohio, defined "family" in only a few categories of related individuals, essentially parents and their children (the "nuclear" family). This, in effect, limited the occupancy of a dwelling unit to members of a single family. Upon trial in an Ohio state court, Inez Moore, who lived in her home with her son and two grandsons was convicted of violating the ordinance, because the grandsons were first cousins rather than brothers. Rejecting the Moore's claim that the ordinance was unconstitutional, the Court of Appeals of Ohio, Cuyahoga County, affirmed the conviction. The Supreme Court of Ohio denied review.  Moore sought further review in the United States Supreme Court.


Was the city's housing ordinance defining "family" as limited to parents and their children constitutional?




The ordinance violated constitutional due process protections by intruding upon family sanctity and because the ordinance had only a tenuous relationship to the alleviation of legitimate city goals. The Court held  that the ordinance bore no rational relationship to permissible state objectives. This ordinance did not distinguish between related and unrelated individuals, the Court explained, but sliced into the family and regulated what categories of relatives might live together. Such intrusion into family life was not constitutionally protected. Rejecting arguments that the ordinance served to prevent overcrowding, minimize traffic, and avoid burdening the public school system, the Court held that the provision had but a tenuous relation to the alleviation of these objectives. Nor was the constitutional right to live together as a family limited to the nuclear family, the Court ruled, as the extended family traditionally played a role in providing sustenance and security. Cutting off protection of family rights at the first convenient boundary, the nuclear family, was arbitrary and could not be justified.

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