Brief Fact Summary.
Most Akron city ordinances went into effect thirty days after passage, but ordinances dealing with selling or leasing real property on the basis of race required approval in an automatic referendum to be enacted.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
States may not create a law making it more difficult for one particular group to enact beneficial legislation.
Most ordinances passed by Akron’s City Council went into effect thirty days after they passed. § 137 treated ordinances dealing with the sale and leasing of real property “on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin or ancestry” differently. In order to get such an ordinance passed, it needed to be approved by a majority of voters in a general or special election. This created an automatic referendum for ordinances described under § 137, whereas all other ordinances went into effect after thirty days and 10 percent of voters had to call for a referendum in order to repeal them.
May the state create a law making it more difficult for one particular group to enact beneficial legislation?
(White, J.) No. States may not create a law making it more difficult for one particular group to enact beneficial legislation. Only laws designed to end housing discrimination based on “race, color, religion, national origin or ancestry” have to satisfy this additional requirement in order to be enacted. While the statute itself does not draw a distinction based on race, the reality is that the law’s impact is felt by minority groups. The majority does not need protection from discrimination and if it did, it would easily succeed in a referendum. This statute places higher burdens on racial minorities within the political process. Racial classifications are always subject to the highest standard of review and must demonstrate greater justifications than other classifications. None of Akron’s justifications meet their burden. § 137 discriminates against minorities and denies them equal protection of the law.
(Harlan, J.) Most laws that set out the process and structure of a political institution aim to provide a system within which our society’s diverse political groups may fairly compete. Most are not enacted in order to give one group an advantage over another. Here, though, Akron has not attempted to design its political structure on the basis of any general principle. This provision has the clear goal of making it more difficult for certain racial and religious minorities to enact legislation that is in their interest. The statute is discriminatory on its face and so must meet a far greater burden of justification than other cases. No legitimate state interest justifies the action taken here.
When government creates obstacles to the political process for groups that are traditionally the objects of discrimination, the courts strictly scrutinize the government action and usually strike it down. The type of government action seen here has become a popular move when the electoral majorities feel that government is acting too aggressively in preventing racial discrimination. The Akron ordinance appeared to inhibit the enactment of legislation that would be harmful to minorities as well as legislation that would benefit them. However, because federal law already worked to prevent the enactment of discriminatory legislation, the practical effect was just to slow or prevent beneficial legislation.