James v. Valtierra

PETITIONER: James et al.
RESPONDENT: Anita Valtierra et al.
LOCATION: Congress

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1970-1971)

CITATION: 402 US 137 (1971)
ARGUED: Mar 03, 1971 / Mar 04, 1971
DECIDED: Apr 26, 1971

Facts of the case


Media for James v. Valtierra

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 03, 1971 in James v. Valtierra

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 04, 1971 in James v. Valtierra

Warren E. Burger:

-- Whenever you're ready.

Archibald Cox:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

I suggested yesterday that our submission that Article XXXIV violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment could conveniently be approached in four steps.

The first which I covered was to show that the indisputable purpose and effect of Article XXXIV is to erect an obstacle in the perils of the poor when they seek governmental action to supply their need for housing.

It does not confront any other group seeking governmental action to satisfy its demands on the political system and that the provisions for the automatic referendum cannot be explained by the consistent application of any neutral or general principle.

Our second main point is to emphasize that Article XXXIV builds its unique bias into the very structure of the political system into the very core of Government itself.

I stress that point also its obvious for this reason.

It’s quite clear that in working out substantive policies lines must be drawn by Government and sometimes those lines are very difficult ones as in Dandridge v. Williams.

It’s also clear that substantive policies when developed by Government sometimes operate more harshly against one class than against another.

An example is the currently much publicized litigations so not in this Court attacking zoning laws on the ground that they fenced the poor out of communities.

The point I'm trying to make is that we’re not asking the Court to render a decision that has any impact upon those kinds of questions.

Here, the bias is in the way decision are reached by the political community and it seems to us that not only narrows the issue but that it makes the discrimination a great deal more wrong, it’s a discrimination, like discrimination in voting or in apportionment or even in the way one stands before the Court.

Are there any evidence in this case if this was racially motivated?

Archibald Cox:

I don’t think one can say that there is any proof that the thinking of those who voted to put this into the Constitution was that there's any proof that it was racially motivated.

We do know that in its operation since it bears upon the poor it bears more harshly upon minorities than it does on any other group.

That’s particularly true in the area of housing.

I do intend to develop that point a little bit before the two arguments are over.

But I think that this being a discrimination built into the political system that the case comes within what was said in Hunter and Erickson.

The state may no more disadvantage any particular group by making it more difficult to enact legislation in its behalf that it may dilute any person’s vote or given a group a smaller representation than others of comparable size.

The third main point I would wish to emphasize is that on the face of this statute, it singles out for separate classification the poor or in the words of the statute persons of low income.

And persons of low income are defined as persons or families who let the amount of income which is necessary to enable them and to live in decent, safe, and sanitary dwellings without overcrowding.

Again, I think the explicit singling out of persons of low income narrows the issue that is here, it narrows it in several senses.

In the first place, there could be no doubt about the group against to whom the discrimination runs.

Second, this is not in any sense a shifting group, the poor identifiable and unfortunately to coherent a group in a sense.

It’s not like Williams and Rhodes were arguably the group came together for one purpose then broke up later or like Westbrook and Mihaly.

The California case dealing with the two-thirds the majority required for a bond issue where one could say that the group was temporary.

But here, it is a continuing group -- a group who are experience tells us a particularly subject of prejudice, invidious discriminations in the area of housing.

This brings the case we think within principles of this Court has often noted for example in McDonald against Board of Election Commissioners.

The Court observed that discrimination against the poor was enough to render a classification highly suspect and thereby demand the more exacting judicial scrutiny.

And in Mr. Justice Harlan’s dissenting opinion in Griffin and Illinois, he noted the States of course are prohibited by the Equal Protection Clause from discriminating between rich poor as such in the formulation and application of their laws.