Zoning Law and Substantive Due Process

by Doug Norman . 0 Comments

So this post will focus on some key concepts for Land Use law, or maybe just one: Substantive Due Process. This is derived from the Due Process Clause of 14th Amendment. Section One reads:

No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

This is the clause on the basis of which early zoning laws were challenged. City X is depriving this individual of the full use and enjoyment of his property without the due process of law. In Euclid–the case that established the constitutionality of zoning laws–the court found that the city was not acting unreasonably nor capriciously and had a legitimate end in mind, that being preserving the  low density residential quality of the small suburban village. They showed deference to the city’s authority to determine its own character and form in the face of an encroaching industrial city of Cleveland. Over the course of the 20th century, this deference becomes central to zoning case law. The city has, in other words, a very low burden of proof in terms of showing their legitimate interest (whether it’s economic, public health, safety, aesthetic, etc.).  As long as reasonable people can argue about whether the law is reasonable and not capricious, then the court applies deferential review or a very low level of scrutiny. The city does not have to present evidence; it just has to be logically reasonable and plausible. If reasonable minds can disagree, then the city will prevail.

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