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Forty years ago, Mrs. Inez Moore, a widowed black mother and grandmother of little means, secured a victory that likely seemed improbable to many. Without any money, but with the assistance of a team of dedicated Legal Aid attorneys, she took her lawsuit challenging an East Cleveland, Ohio, zoning ordinance that made it a crime for her to live with her grandson all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and won. The ordinance permitted certain extended family configurations to reside together within the city’s limits, but it prohibited Inez’s family arrangement. Just by bringing her infant grandson John Jr., upon his mother’s death, to live in the home in which she already resided with her son, Dale Sr., and his minor son, Dale Jr., Inez ran afoul of a housing code provision that local officials vigorously enforced. For her refusal to heed their demands that she basically evict John Jr. from the only home he had ever known, Inez faced not only a criminal fine but jail time as well.

Moore v. City of East Cleveland, the Supreme Court decision vindicating Inez’s right to raise her grandson in her home has become a mainstay in all major family law casebooks. Indeed, it stands as one of the most important family law judgments ever rendered by the Court. In finding that East Cleveland’s ordinance violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, the Court affirmed the constitutional importance of families and decision making pertaining to issues such as marriage and childrearing. Justice Lewis Powell, who wrote the plurality opinion in Moore, concluded that the ordinance simply “slic[ed] [too] deeply into the family itself.” Justice Powell explained that due process protections for family relationships are not limited to nuclear families. Instead, such protections encompass extended families, which Justice Powell and those who joined him recognized as having a long “tradition” in the United States “equally deserving of constitutional recognition.”


Family Law | Housing Law | Law