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Moore v. East Cleveland

Sanctity Of The Family

Inez Moore lived with her unmarried son, Dale Moore, and two grandsons, Dale, Jr., and John Moore, Jr. John Moore, Jr. joined her household after the death of his mother, and Moore became the primary caregiver of the child. They resided in a single-family housing unit within the community of East Cleveland, Ohio.

An East Cleveland city housing ordinance restricted the occupancy of housing units to the members of a single family. This ordinance narrowly and definitively limited the categories of family relationships that could make up the housekeeping unit. Legal family members included the head of household; dependent, unmarried children; and parents of the head of household. The ordinance also provided a variance clause allowing non-traditional family units to ask for and be granted an exception to the definition, permitting family members not included in the categorization to legally live within the dwelling.

In 1973 the city of East Cleveland cited Moore with a violation of the city housing ordinance and instructed her to place John in another home. The child was considered an illegal resident of the dwelling. Upon failing to comply with the ordinance, Moore was charged with a misdemeanor criminal offense, which carried a fine of $25 and a sentence of five days in jail. She filed to have her case dismissed, claiming that the ordinance was unconstitutional. Her motion for dismissal was overruled. The Ohio Court of Appeals upheld the criminal charges, and the Ohio Supreme Court denied her a review.

Moore v. East Cleveland came before the U.S. Supreme Court in November of 1976. The claims of this case were that the housing ordinance violated Moore's right to due process and denied her the right to equal protection of the law. The East Cleveland city housing ordinance denied Moore the freedom to make a choice regarding where and with whom her young grandson could live. East Cleveland made a distinct decision about the categories of relatives who may live together, and the city made the personal choice of Moore prosecutable on the grounds that the ordinance was serving the public good and protecting the city's quality of life.

In making their decision, the justices examined the definition of "family." In effect, they had to determine what constitutes a family and if there is a difference in the protection of the nuclear family versus the extended family. Justice Powell, announcing the decision of the Court, relied upon the history and tradition of the family in American society and the protection guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Throughout the history of the United States it has been common for the extended family of close relatives and family friends to come together as a single unit, participating in the activities and duties of raising children and caring for the elderly or disabled. As waves of immigrants arrived in the United States, they joined relatives and shared common households. Powell stated in the Court's opinion,

Ours is by no means a tradition limited to respect for the bonds uniting the members of the nuclear family. The tradition of uncles, aunts, cousins, and especially grandparents sharing a household along with parents and children has roots equally venerable and equally deserving of constitutional recognition.

The Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution recognizes the freedom of personal choices in marrying, raising a family, and other matters of private family life. Powell suggested that the sanctity of an extended family that made the choice to support one another is no less than that of the nuclear family. The determination was made by the majority justices that Moore's extended family was entitled to the same and equal protection as other more traditional families under the Constitution. The choice to raise her grandson within her home was a private family matter into which the city and state could not interfere without having a substantial relationship to public health, safety, or general welfare.

It was on these grounds that the Court declared the East Cleveland housing ordinance unconstitutional. The justices found that the ordinance intruded upon Moore's decision to raise her grandson within her household in an arbitrary manner and without serving a public good. By denying her the right to raise the child in the manner that she saw fit and prosecuting her, the city and state intruded upon her basic liberties as granted by the U.S. Constitution. The justices saw this violation of rights as "a taking of property without due process and without just compensation" because Moore would be required to move out of her home and into another neighborhood where she would not be in violation of the East Cleveland ordinance if she chose to keep John Moore, Jr., in her home.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1973 to 1980Moore v. East Cleveland - Sanctity Of The Family, The Dissenting Opinions, Impact