Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center, Inc. (1985) is one of a handful of cases in which the Supreme Court invalidated a law while applying RATIONAL BASIS review, a traditionally deferential standard of judicial scrutiny that usually results in upholding the challenged law. In Cleburne, the Justices applied what commentators have called "rational basis with bite" to overturn a city ZONING ordinance that prevented the operation of a group home for the mentally disabled within the city.
Under the rational basis test, challengers must show that the law in question has no legitimate purpose or, assuming a legitimate purpose, that the means adopted by the law bear no reasonable relationship to the achievement of that end. The City of Cleburne argued that its zoning ordinance served the legitimate purpose of preserving property values and protecting the disabled from harassment by nearby school children. According to Justice BYRON R. WHITE, writing for a 6?3 majority, the city's justifications rested on nothing more than "negative attitudes" or "fear" of the mentally disabled. The indulgence of arbitrary prejudice, the Court held, was not a legitimate government purpose.
Some supporters of Cleburne hoped that the decision would mark the beginning of heightened judicial scrutiny of laws discriminating against the mentally disabled, much in the way the Court's use of rational basis with bite in SEX DISCRIMINATION cases in the early 1970s previewed the application of more stringent "intermediate scrutiny" to gender classifications. The REHNQUIST COURT dashed such hopes in Heller v. Doe (1993), where it returned to the more deferential version of the rational basis test in upholding an involuntary commitment law that discriminated between mentally retarded and mentally ill individuals.
The few other cases in which the Court has...