City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center, Inc.


An individual purchased a building owned by the City of Cleburne in order to lease to a group that planned to use it as a home for the mentally handicapped.  The City suggested to the CLC defendant and individual that a special permit was necessary for the sale to go through and for the home to legally operate.  The special permit, under the city’s code stated there needed to be a special permit to erect “hospitals for the insane or feeble-minded.”  After the defendants applied for the permit, a public hearing was held in which it was denied.


Whether the requirement of a special permit for the mentally ill by a city violates the equal protection clause of the United States.


Yes, the city ordinance is invalid.  The court wrote that such a permit constituted an unjustifiable and unsubstantiated bias against the mentally handicapped.  The court argued that a city or state law which discriminates in its text or impact only need be “rationally related” to a legitimate government interest, which is the lowest category of equal protection.  They argued that this was a reasonable categorical placement because the mentally ill are widespread and not such an under-represented minority in state and local affairs.  Moreover, the mentally ill are widely protected at the federal level as well.

However, in the instant case, there was no legitimate government interest served by the permit requirement.  That is, the court stated that there was no rational relation of a special permit for mentally handicapped individuals to a legitimate government interest.

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