Golden Gate University Law Review

Article Title

Contextualizing Cleburne


Twenty-five years ago, the Supreme Court decided City of Cleburne, Texas v. Cleburne Living Center, Inc., involving a zoning ordinance that discriminated against the “mentally retarded” in the establishment of group homes. After summarizing the facts and opinions in the case and examining Cleburne’s reception in the legal world (in Parts I and II, respectively), Part III of this Article attempts to identify these external variables. The mid-1980s were a high point of neighborhood hostility to group homes for persons with mental retardation, and a low point of federal spending and enforcement efforts on behalf of the mentally retarded. This social and political milieu, when met with Justice White’s unique brand of judicial restraint, produced a decision that, while resolving the immediate issue in favor of the group home residents, set a precedent that reinforced the second-class status of persons with mental disabilities. In conclusion, this Article assesses the long-term impact of the decision and argues that the need to overturn Cleburne is still strong.