Moore v. City of East Cleveland/Concurrence Brennan

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Court Documents
Case Syllabus
Opinion of the Court
Concurring Opinions
Dissenting Opinions

Mr. Justice Brennan, with whom Mr. Justice Marshall joins, concurring.

I join the plurality's opinion. I agree that the Constitution is not powerless to prevent East Cleveland from prosecuting as a criminal and jailing[1] a 63-year-old grandmother for refusing to expel from her home her now 10-year-old grandson who has lived with her and been brought up by her since his mother's death when he was less than a year old.[2] I do not question that a municipality may constitutionally zone to alleviate noise and traffic congestion and to prevent overcrowded and unsafe living conditions, in short to enact reasonable land-use restrictions in furtherance of the legitimate objectives East Cleveland claims for its ordinance. But the zoning power is not a license for local communities to enact senseless and arbitrary restrictions which cut deeply into private areas of protected family life. East Cleveland may not constitutionally define "family" as essentially confined to parents and the parents' own children.[3] The plurality's opinion conclusively demonstrates that classifying family patterns in this eccentric way is not a rational means of achieving the ends East Cleveland claims for its ordinance, and further that the ordinance unconstitutionally abridges the "freedom of personal choice in matters life [that] is one of the liberties protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment." Cleveland Board of Education v. LaFleur, 414 U.S. 632, 639-640 (1974). I write only to underscore the cultural myopia of the arbitrary boundary drawn by the East Cleveland ordinance in the light of the tradition of the American home that has been a feature of our society since our beginning as a Nation--the "tradition" in the plurality's words, "of uncles, aunts, cousins, and especially grandparents sharing a household along with parents and children...." Ante, at 504. The line drawn by this ordinance displays a depressing insensitivity toward the economic and emotional needs of a very large part of our society.

In today's America, the "nuclear family" is the pattern so often found in much of white suburbia. J. Vander Zanden, Sociology: A Systematic Approach 322 (3d ed. 1975). The Constitution cannot be interpreted, however, to tolerate the imposition by government upon the rest of us of white suburbia's preference in patterns of family living. The "extended family" that provided generations of early Americans with social services and economic and emotional support in times of hardship, and was the beachhead for successive waves of immigrants who populated our cities,[4] remains not merely still a pervasive living pattern, but under the goad of brutal economic necessity, a prominent pattern--virtually a means of survival--for large numbers of the poor and deprived minorities of our society. For them compelled pooling of scant resources requires compelled sharing of a household.[5]

The "extended" form is especially familiar among black families.[6] We may suppose that this reflects the truism that black citizens, like generations of white immigrants before them, have been victims of economic and other disadvantages that would worsen if they were compelled to abandon extended, for nuclear, living patterns.[7] Even in husband and wife households, 13% of black families compared with 3% of white families include relatives under 18 years old, in addition to the couple's own children.[8] In black households whose head is an elderly woman, as in this case, the contrast is even more striking: 48% of such black households, compared with 10% of counterpart white households, include related minor children not offspring of the head of the household.[9]

I do not wish to be understood as implying that East Cleveland's enforcement of its ordinance is motivated by a racially discriminatory purpose: The record of this case would not support that implication. But the prominence of other than nuclear families among ethnic and racial minority groups, including our black citizens, surely demonstrates that the "extended family" pattern remains a vital tenet of our society.[10] It suffices that in prohibiting this pattern of family living as a means of achieving its objectives, appellee city has chosen a device that deeply intrudes into family associational rights that historically have been central, and today remain central, to a large proportion of our population.

Moreover, to sanction the drawing of the family line at the arbitrary boundary chosen by East Cleveland would surely conflict with prior decisions that protected "extended" family relationships. For the "private realm of family life which the state cannot enter," recognized as protected in Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158, 166 (1944), was the relationship of aunt and niece. And in Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 534-535 (1925), the protection held to have been unconstitutionally abridged was "the liberty of parents and guardians to direct the upbringing and education of children under their control" (emphasis added). See also Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205, 232-233 (1972). Indeed, Village of Belle Terre v. Boraas, 416 U.S. 1 (1974), the case primarily relied upon by the appellee, actually supports the Court's decision. The Belle Terre ordinance barred only unrelated individuals from constituting a family in a single-family zone. The village took special care in its brief to emphasize that its ordinance did not in any manner inhibit the choice of related individuals to constitute a family, whether in the "nuclear" or "extended" form. This was because the village perceived that choice as one it was constitutionally powerless to inhibit. Its brief stated: "Whether it be the extended family of a more leisurely age or the nuclear family of today the role of the family in raising and training successive generations of the species makes it more important, we dare say, than any other social or legal institution.... If any freedom not specifically mentioned in the Bill of Rights enjoys a 'preferred position' in the law it is most certainly the family." (Emphasis supplied.) Brief for Appellants in No. 73-191, O. T. 1973, p. 26. The cited decisions recognized, as the plurality recognizes today, that the choice of the "extended family" pattern is within the "freedom of personal choice in matters life [that] is one of the liberties protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment." 414 U.S., at 639-640.

Any suggestion that the variance procedure of East Cleveland's Housing Code assumes special significance is without merit. This is not only because this grandmother was not obligated to exhaust her administrative remedy before defending this prosecution on the ground that the single-family occupancy ordinance violates the Equal Protection Clause. Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co., 272 U.S. 365 (1926), the leading case in the zoning field, expressly held that one attacking the constitutionality of a building or zoning code need not first seek a variance. Id., at 386. Rather, the matter of a variance is irrelevant also because the municipality is constitutionally powerless to abridge, as East Cleveland has done, the freedom of personal choice of related members of a family to live together. Thus, the existence of the variance procedure serves to lessen neither the irrationality of the definition of "family" nor the extent of its intrusion into family life-style decisions.

There is no basis for an inference—other than the city's self-serving statement that a hardship variance "possibly with some stipulation(s) would probably have been granted"--that this grandmother would have obtained a variance had she requested one. Indeed, a contrary inference is more supportable. In deciding to prosecute her in the first place, the city tipped its hand how discretion would have been exercised. In any event, § 1311.02 (1965), limits the discretion of the Board of Building Code Appeals to grant variances to those which are "in harmony with the general intent of such ordinance...." If one of the legitimate objectives of the definition of "family" was to preserve the single (nuclear) family character of East Cleveland, then granting this grandmother a variance would be in excess of the Board's powers under the ordinance.

Furthermore, the very existence of the "escape hatch" of the variance procedure only heightens the irrationality of the restrictive definition, since application of the ordinance then depends upon which family units the zoning authorities permit to reside together and whom the prosecuting authorities choose to prosecute. The Court's disposition of the analogous situation in Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), is instructive. There Texas argued that, despite a rigid and narrow statute prohibiting abortions except for the purpose of saving the mother's life, prosecuting authorities routinely tolerated elective abortion procedures in certain cases, such as nonconsensual pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. The Court was not persuaded that this saved the statute, the Chief Justice commenting that "no one in these circumstances should be placed in a posture of dependence on a prosecutorial policy or prosecutorial discretion." Id., at 208 (concurring opinion). Similarly, this grandmother cannot be denied the opportunity to defend against this criminal prosecution because of a variance procedure that holds her family hostage to the vagaries of discretionary administrative decisions. Smith v. Cahoon, 283 U.S. 553, 562 (1931). We have now passed well beyond the day when illusory escape hatches could justify the imposition of burdens on fundamental rights. Stanley v. Illinois, 405 U.S. 645, 647-649 (1972); Staub v. City of Baxley, 355 U.S. 313, 319 (1958).


  1. . This is a criminal prosecution which resulted in the grandmother's conviction and sentence to prison and a fine. Section 1345.99 permits imprisonment of up to six months, and a fine of up to $1,000, for violation of any provision of the Housing Code. Each day such violation continues may, by the terms of this section, constitute a separate offense.
  2. . Brief for Appellant 4. In addition, we were informed by appellant's counsel at oral argument that
  3. . The East Cleveland ordinance defines "family" to include, in addition to the spouse of the "nominal head of the household," the couple's childless unmarried children, but only one dependent child (married or unmarried) having dependent children, and one parent of the nominal head of the household or of his or her spouse. Thus an "extended family" is authorized in only the most limited sense, and "family" is essentially confined to parents and their own children. Appellant grandmother was charged with violating the ordinance because John, Jr., lived with her at the same time her other grandson, Dale, Jr., was also living in the home; the latter is classified as an "unlicensed roomer" authorized by the ordinance to live in the house.
  4. . See Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders 278-281 (1968); Kosa & Nash, Social Ascent of Catholics, 8 Social Order 98-103 (1958); M. Novak, The Rise of the Unmeltable Ethnics 209-210 (1972); B. Yorburg, The Changing Family 106-109 (1973); Kosa, Rachiele, & Schommer, Sharing the Home with Relatives, 22 Marriage and Family Living 129 (1960).
  5. . See, e. g., H. Gans, The Urban Villagers 45-73, 245-249 (1962).
  6. . Yorburg, supra, n. 4, at 108. "Within the black lower-class it has been quite common for several generations, or parts of the kin, to live together under one roof. Often a maternal grandmother is the acknowledged head of this type of household which has given rise to the term 'matrifocal' to describe lower-class black family patterns." See J. Scanzoni, The Black Family in Modern Society 134 (1971); see also Anderson, The Pains and Pleasures of Old Black Folks, Ebony 123, 128-130 (Mar. 1973). See generally E. Frazier, The Negro Family in the United States (1939); Lewis, The Changing Negro Family, in E. Ginzberg, ed., The Nation's Children 108 (1960).
  7. . The extended family has many strengths not shared by the nuclear family.
  8. . R. Hill, The Strengths of Black Families 5 (1972).
  9. . Id., at 5-6. It is estimated that at least 26% of black children live in other than husband-wife families, "including foster parents, the presence of other male or female relatives (grandfather or grandmother, older brother or sister, uncle or aunt), male or female nonrelatives, [or with] only one adult (usually mother) present...." Scanzoni, supra, n. 6, at 44.
  10. . Novak, supra, n. 4; Hill, supra, at 5-6; N. Glazer & D. Moynihan, Beyond the Melting Pot 50-53 (2d ed. 1970); L. Rainwater & W. Yancey, The Moynihan Report and the Politics of Controversy 51-60 (1967).