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Moore v. City of East Cleveland, Ohio

    Citation. 431 U.S. 494, 97 S. Ct. 1932, 52 L. Ed. 2d 531, 1977 U.S.

    Brief Fact Summary. The Petitioner, Mrs. Inez Moore Moore (Petitioner), was convicted of a criminal offense under an East Cleveland housing ordinance for having one of her grandsons living in her house.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The State must advance a compelling interest to infringe upon the choice of relatives of a close degree of kinship to live together.

    Facts. East Cleveland’s housing ordinances restrict occupancy of certain dwellings to single family units. The ordinance in question, however, recognizes only a few categories of related individuals as a “single family.” At the time of the complaint the Petitioner, lived in East Cleveland with her son and two of her grandsons, who were cousins, rather than brothers. Her living situation did not match one of the statutory definitions of single family. She was charged and sentenced to pay a $25 fine and spend 5 days in jail.

    Issue. May the City restrict its definition of single family in such a manner as to remove certain combinations of close blood relations in the same house from that definition?

    Held. No. Appeals Court ruling reversed and remanded.
    Justice Lewis Powell (J. Powell) notes that municipalities generally have a broad ability to enforce single-family housing ordinances against groups of individuals living together where there is no relation by blood, adoption, or marriage.
    However, the tradition of having family members live with others in their extended family is long and representative of the basic values underlying our society. As such, the decision to move in with extended family or move extended family in with ones nuclear family may be regarded as a fundamental right. J. Powell argues the State has no compelling interest in restricting the definition of a single family in such a manner as to exclude combinations of close blood relations.

    Dissent. Justice Potter Stewart (J. Stewart) argues that the line of cases restricting definitions of single families focuses not so much on blood relation, but rather the ability to have children and to raise them in the manner one deems proper. The City ordinance does not affect the Petitioner’s right to do any of these.

    Discussion. The majority and dissent differ largely in their conception of what the fundamental right involved in the case is. The majority holds it to be family associations broadly. The dissent argues that the family associations are merely emanations from more basic rights, reproductive autonomy and child-rearing.


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