Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Many family law textbooks begin with an examination of the definition of "family" -- with zoning law cases taking center stage in the debate. The most recent opinion on the constitutionality of formal definitions of "family" comes from the Iowa Supreme Court, which in a 4-3 decision held that a city zoning ordinance that prevents multi-family dwellings in some neighborhoods does not breach the Equal Protection clause. The split opinion presents great reading for our students.
The case involved a suit by a landlords' association challenging the Ames Iowa single-family zoning ordinance. Ames is a university city experiencing an inflow of students into established residential areas. The landlord association challenged the constitutionality of the ordinance based on its definition of "family" as "Any number of people related by blood, marriage, adoption, guardianship or other duly-authorized custodial relationship."
However the Supreme Court found the definition rationally related to a legitimate government objective and noted that "It is the City's prerogative to fashion remedies to problems affecting its residents.... The court's power to declare a statute or ordinance unconstitutional is tempered by the court's respect for the legislative process."
The dissent argued that the city's family definitions are outdated and unconstitutionally restrictive. "Today it is not unusual to see a group of unrelated single persons living together and sharing expenses.... The simple fact is that in today's modern society the overinclusive and underinclusive examples identified in this dissent and by other courts that have found similar ordinances unconstitutional are closer to the norms than to the extremes,"
Ames Rental Property Association v. City of Ames, (Iowa Supreme Court July 27, 2007)
Opinion online (last visited July 30, 2007 bgf)