City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center, Inc.



There is no elevated level of scrutiny for government regulations that affect mentally retarded people, but these regulations still can be invalidated under rational basis review.


Multiple-residence dwellings were classified as R-3 in the City of Cleburne in Texas. While they generally did not require a permit, a home for mentally retarded individuals did require a permit. The city rejected a permit application by the Cleburne Living Center, Inc., after receiving opposition from residents of the area. The Center argued that the zoning ordinance was an unconstitutional violation of equal protection. The Fifth Circuit agreed after applying heightened scrutiny on the basis that mentally retarded individuals are a protected group.OPINIONS


  • Byron Raymond White (Author)
  • Warren Earl Burger
  • Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr.
  • William Hubbs Rehnquist
  • John Paul Stevens
  • Sandra Day O’Connor

Courts should resist applying heightened scrutiny to regulations that affect mentally retarded people because regulations in this area require a substantial amount of variety and tailoring, which legislatures are better situated than courts to oversee. More intrusive judicial review might discourage legislatures from passing laws in this area, and legislatures take action on this group’s behalf with sufficient frequency and force to show that this group is not politically powerless. The Fourteenth Amendment would be expanded too broadly if it permitted special treatment for such a large group, since its protections must be limited to certain clearly defined groups if they continue to be so strong. However, this particular regulation fails the rational basis standard simply because it is based on irrational prejudice and is not connected to any legitimate interest.


  • John Paul Stevens (Author)
  • Warren Earl Burger

Concurrence/Dissent In Part

  • Thurgood Marshall (Author)
  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr.
  • Harry Andrew Blackmun


This decision is a rare example of when a court strikes down a law under rational basis review, which is the lowest level of scrutiny and generally an easy burden for the government to meet. However, the Court found that fear of mentally retarded people is not a legitimate government interest.