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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. Decisions from the Supreme Court of the United States 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 of appellee East Cleveland, Ohio with the intention of limiting occupancy of a dwelling unit to members of a single family, defined a "family" as only a few categories of related individuals, essentially parents and their children. Appellant Moore, who lived in her home with her son and two grandsons, was convicted in state court of violating the ordinance because the grandsons were first cousins rather than brothers. On appeal, the Court of Appeals of Ohio, Cuyahoga County, affirmed, rejecting the Moore's claim that the ordinance was unconstitutional. 


Was the housing ordinance valid?




The Supreme Court of the United States reversed, holding that the ordinance violated the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by intruding upon family sanctity and because the ordinance had only a tenuous relationship to the alleviation of legitimate city goals. It held that 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 those 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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