City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center Inc.

473 U.S. 432
Brief Filed: 1984
Court: Supreme Court of the United States
Year of Decision: 1985

Read the full-text amicus brief (PDF, 607KB)


Whether zoning restrictions limiting the right of mentally retarded persons to establish group homes was unconstitutional

Index Topics

Mentally Ill and Mentally Retarded (Rights of); Residential Treatment


The Cleburne Living Center, Inc., a residential treatment center for mildly and moderately mentally retarded persons, applied for a zoning variance that would permit them to operate in a Cleburne neighborhood. The Cleburne Planning and Zoning Commission denied the variance and CLC brought suit in federal court for violation of Equal Protection of the Law. The district court ruled in favor of the city, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed and held that the mentally retarded constituted a quasi-suspect class because of the history of discrimination against them and because mental retardation is immutable. As a quasi-suspect class, the mentally retarded were entitled to an intermediate level of scrutiny when challenging the constitutionality of a law that purportedly discriminates against them. After applying the intermediate scrutiny test, the Fifth Circuit held that the denial of a zoning variance was unconstitutional because it did not serve a legitimate governmental interest. The U.S. Supreme Court granted review on the question whether mentally retarded persons are a quasi-suspect class.

APA's Position

APA joined the case as an amici, along with other human services groups, arguing that: (1) persons with mental retardation constitute a discrete and insular minority entitled to heightened scrutiny and mentally retarded persons comprise a discrete and insular minority with a substantial history of invidious legislative discrimination—due, in part, to their disenfranchisement and political powerlessness; (2) the fact that mental retardation is relevant to some legitimate state legislation does not preclude finding retarded people a semi-suspect class; and (3) laws that discriminate against people with mental retardation should be subjected to heightened judicial scrutiny, as the rational basis test is an inadequate tool for evaluating the constitutionality of statutes which may invidiously discriminate on the basis of mental retardation and intermediate scrutiny is a particularly appropriate method for distinguishing laws that unconstitutionally discriminate against mentally retarded people from those laws that employ the classification in a non-invidious fashion.


The U.S. Supreme Court did not agree with APA's position that the mentally retarded are a quasi-suspect class, entitled to an intermediate level of scrutiny when challenging a law on equal protection grounds. It did find, however, that this legislation did not pass the rational basis test and was, thus, unconstitutional.