Family Law Keyed to Weisberg

Topic /161
Village of Belle Torre v. Borass

Citation. Belle Terre v. Boraas, 416 U.S. 1, 94 S. Ct. 1536, 39 L. Ed. 2d 797, 1974 U.S. LEXIS 122, 4 ELR 20302, 6 ERC (BNA) 1417 (U.S. Apr. 1, 1974)

Brief Fact Summary. Appellees brought suit challenging the constitutionality of a law that restricted lad use to one-family dwellings.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. The restrictive land ordinance did not impinge on any fundamental constitutional interests and was rationally related to a permissible state objective.

Facts. Belle Torre restricted land use to one-family dwellings excluding lodging houses, boarding houses, fraternity houses, or multiple-dwelling houses. Appellees, the Dickmans owed a house leased to six unrelated students attending a nearby state school. When the village served the Dickmans with an “Order to Remedy Violations” of the ordinance, the owners plus three tenants thereupon brought this action under 42 U.S.C Section:1983 for an injunction and a judgment declaring the ordinance unconstitutional.

Issue. Is the restricted land use statute unconstitutional?

Held. The majority held that the statute did not violate the Equal Protection Clause.
This case differs from previous zoning ordinances reviewed by the Court. The present ordinance is challenged on the following grounds: that it interferes with a person’s right to travel, that it interferes with the right to migrate to and settle within a State; that it bars people who are uncongenial to the present residences; that it expresses the social preferences of the residents for groups that will be congenial to them; that social homogeneity is not a legitimate interest of the government; that the restriction of those whom the neighbors do not like trenches on the newcomers’ rights of privacy; that it is of no rightful concern to villagers whether the residents are married or unmarried; that the ordinance is antithetical to the Nation’s experience, ideology, and self-perception as an open, egalitarian, and integrated society.

This Court finds none of the previous reasons in the record before it. The legislation is not aimed at transients, involves no procedural disparity inflicted on some but not others, and involves no fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution. The law is thus examined under the Equal Protection Clause to determine if it is reasonable, not arbitrary, and bears a rational relationship to a permissible state objective.

The Appellees argue that if two unmarried people may constitute a family, there is no reason that four may not. However, every line drawn by a legislature leaves some out that might well have been included. That exercise of discretion is a legislative, not a judicial, function. The regimes of boarding houses, fraternity houses, and the like present urban problems. A quiet place where yards are wide, people are few, and motor vehicles restricted are legitimate guidelines in a land-use project. This goal is a permissible one.

Dissent. The legislation unnecessarily burdens appellees’ First Amendment freedom of association and their constitutionally guaranteed right to privacy. Constitutional protection is extended, not only to modes of association that are political in the usual sense, but also to those that pertain to the social and economic benefit of members. The freedom of association is often entwined with the right of privacy. The instant ordinance discriminates on the personal lifestyle choice of household companions. It limits the density of occupancy of only those homes occupied by unrelated persons. It impinges on fundamental personal rights, and can withstand constitutional scrutiny only upon a clear showing that the burden imposed is necessary to protect a compelling and substantial governmental interest that no less intrusive means will adequately protect. The interests protected are legitimate and substantial, but the means chosen are both under and overinclusive.

Discussion. The majority found that no fundamental liberty interests were in question, and that the legislation bore a rational relationship to a legitimate state objective. The dissent argued that the freedom of association and privacy were brought into question, and that the legislature was constitutionally overinclusive and underinclusive.