New Orleans v. Dukes

427 U.S. 297, 96 S. Ct. 2513 (1976)



When local economic regulation is challenged solely as violating the Equal Protection Clause, a review court defers to legislative determinations as to the desirability of particular statutory discriminations. Unless a classification trammels fundamental personal rights or makes inherently suspect distinctions such as race, religion, or alienage, courts presume the constitutionality of the statutory discriminations and require only that the classification challenged be rationally related to a legitimate state interest. 


Appellee vendor filed a complaint against the appellant city seeking declaratory and injunctive relief after the city passed an ordinance that invalidated her license to sell food from a vending cart in a historical area of the city. The ordinance grandfathered in those vendors who had held their licenses continuously for eight or more years. The district court granted judgment in favor of the city, and the appellate court reversed on the ground that it denied her equal protection under the law. On review, the court reversed judgment.


Did the contested ordinance deny the plaintiff equal protection of the law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment?




The court held that the ordinance was rationally related to a legitimate state interest. That interest was the preservation of the appearance and custom of a historical area of the city attractive to tourists. The fact that the city chose to limit, rather than ban, vendor activity was not arbitrary or irrational. Nor was the gradual approach constitutionally impermissible. The city could reasonably have concluded that businesses newer than eight years of age were less likely to have built up a reliance on income from that particular area of the city or that the older vending businesses had actually become a part of the charm and character expected by tourists and residents alike.

Click here to view the full text case and earn your Daily Research Points.