Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Corp

Village of Arlington Heights et al. v. Metropolitan Housing Development Corp. et al.
Supreme Court of the United States
Argued October 13, 1976
Decided January 11, 1977
Full case name Village of Arlington Heights, et al. v. Metropolitan Housing Development Corporation, et al.
Citations 429 more)
97 S.Ct. 555; 50 L.Ed. 450
Prior history 373 F.Supp. 208; 517 F.2d 409
Subsequent history 616 F.2d 1006
Zoning ordinance did not violate 14th amendment based on application of Disparate Impact/Purposeful Discrimination test.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Powell, joined by Burger, Stewart, Blackmun, Rehnquist, Stevens
Concur/dissent Marshall, joined by Brennan
Dissent White
Laws applied
U.S. Const. Amend. XIV

Village of Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Development Corp, 429 U.S. 252 (1977), was a case heard by the Supreme Court of the United States dealing with a zoning ordinance that in a practical way barred families of various socio-economic, and ethno-racial backgrounds from residing in a neighborhood. The Court held that the ordinance was constitutional.


A zoning ordinance in the Village of Arlington Heights, a Chicago suburb, barred the construction of multi-family housing facilities (such as apartment complexes) in the center of the neighborhood. The neighborhood was zoned for single-family dwellings without variance since 1959.


Rather than applying a strict scrutiny test for official conduct that on its face is based on a suspect classification, the court applied a disparate impact test to determine whether the ordinance was actually based on a discriminatory intent which in turn would determine the constitutionality of the ordinance since the ordinance mentioned nothing about racial classifications. The Court stated that the challenging party has the burden of showing that 1) the official action affects a protected class in greater proportion than others, and if such is established, 2) that the official action was intended to discriminate against a suspect or protected class.

Determining the intent of the official action can be difficult (outside of rare cases where racial discrimination is obvious on the face), and the court suggested that a fact intensive balancing test considering many factors including but not limited to: 1) the impact of the challenged decision (whether it disproportionately impacted one race); 2)the historical background of decisions under the official action, particularly if unequally applied in situations involving race; 3) the specific sequences of events leading up to the decision challenged in the case, including departures from normal procedures in making decisions and substantive departures, (i.e. the decision maker would have made a different choice had the applicant been white; race was the deciding factor); and 4) the legislative history where there are contemporary statements made by the governmental body who created the official action.

Proximate Cause Footnote 21 introduces an idea of proximate cause to these cases. Namely, it states that the petitioner must prove respondent had 1) an improper intent (i.e. that his intent was to discriminate against another race). After this is proven, the burden of proof shifts to the respondent, who must prove that 2)the improper intent did not actually affect the outcome of his decision. Thus, the court is saying that to satisfy this test, you must prove improper intent, a disparate impact, and proximate cause (i.e. that the improper intent is the cause of the disparate impact). If proximate cause cannot be proven, "there would be no justification for judicial interference with the challenged decision," as "the complaining party in a case of this kind no longer fairly could attribute the injury complained of to improper consideration of a discriminatory purpose."


In applying the aforementioned test, the court upheld the ordinance. Although it may have kept minorities and other economically challenged individuals from moving into the neighborhood, all multi-family housing existed on the neighborhood borders to commercial areas, whereas here the developer wanted to place the multifamily housing units in the center of the neighborhood. Additionally, the ordinance had been in place since 1959, and had been applied the same way, allowing only multifamily housing on the border without regard to price of rent, purchase, or governmental subsidy. Furthermore, there had never been any incidences of discriminatory procedural practices because the city council had allowed a variance to the developer in the past for the same type of low income, multi-family housing. Moreover, there had been no instances of substantive departures either because since 1959, each housing proposal for multi-family complexes had been required to be built bordering commercial areas.

See also

Further reading

External links

  • Text of Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Corp., 429 U.S. 252 (1977) is available from:  Justia 
  • Summary of case from OYEZ
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.