James v. Valtierra Shaffer v. Valtierra, Nos. 154

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtBLACK
Citation402 U.S. 137,91 S.Ct. 1331,28 L.Ed.2d 678
PartiesRonald JAMES et al., Appellants, v. Anita VALTIERRA et al., Appellees. Virginia C. SHAFFER, Appellant, v. Anita VALTIERRA et al., Appellees
Decision Date26 April 1971
Docket NumberNos. 154,226

402 U.S. 137
91 S.Ct. 1331
28 L.Ed.2d 678
Ronald JAMES et al., Appellants,

v.

Anita VALTIERRA et al., Appellees. Virginia C. SHAFFER, Appellant, v. Anita VALTIERRA et al., Appellees.

Nos. 154, 226.
Argued March 3 and 4, 1971.
Decided April 26, 1971.

Donald C. Atkinson, San Mateo, Cal., for Ronald James and others.

Moses Lasky, San Francisco, Cal., for Virginia C. Shaffer.

Archibald Cox, Washington, D.C., for appellees.

Page 138

Mr. Justice BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

These cases raise but a single issue. It grows out of the United States Housing Act of 1937, 50 Stat. 888, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 1401 et seq., which established a federal housing agency authorized to make loans and grants to state agencies for slum clearance and lowrent housing projects. In response, the California Legislature created in each county and city a public housing authority to take advantage of the financing made available by the federal Housing Act. See Cal. Health & Safety Code § 34240. At the time the federal legislation was passed the California Constitution had for many years reserved to the State's people the power to initiate legislation and to reject or approve by referendum any Act passed by the state legislature. Cal.Const., Art. IV, § 1. The same section reserved to the electors of counties and cities the power of initiative and referendum over acts of local government bodies. In 1950, however, the State Supreme Court held that local authorities' decisions on seeking federal aid for public housing projects were 'executive' and 'administrative,' not 'legislative,' and therefore the state constitution's referendum provisions did not apply to these actions.1 Within six months of

Page 139

that decision the California voters adopted Article XXXIV of the state constitution to bring public housing decisions under the State's referendum policy. The Article provided that no low-rent housing project should be developed, constructed, or acquired in any manner by a state public body until the project was approved by a majority of those voting at a community election.2

The present suits were brought by citizens of San Jose, California, and San Mateo County, localities where housing authorities could not apply for federal funds because low-cost housing proposals had been defeated in referendums. The plaintiffs, who are eligible for low-cost public housing, sought a declaration that Article XXXIV was unconstitutional because its referendum requirement violated: (1) the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution; (2) the Privileges and Immunities Clause; and (3) the Equal Protection Clause. A three-judge court held that Article XXXIV denied the plaintiffs

Page 140

equal protection of the laws and it enjoined its enforcement. 313 F.Supp. 1 (ND Cal. 1970). Two appeals were taken from the judgment, one by the San Jose City Council, and the other by a single member of the council. We noted probable jurisdiction of both appeals. 398 U.S. 949, 90 S.Ct. 1873, 26 L.Ed.2d 288 (1970); 399 U.S. 925, 90 S.Ct. 2247, 26 L.Ed.2d 790 (1970). For the reasons that follow, we reverse.

The three-judge court found the Supremacy Clause argument unpersuasive, and we agree. By the Housing Act of 1937 the Federal Government has offered aid to state and local governments for the creation of low-rent public housing. However, the federal legislation does not purport to require that local governments accept this or to outlaw local referendums on whether the aid should be accepted. We also find the privileges and immunities argument without merit.

While the District Court cited several cases of this Court, its chief reliance plainly rested on Hunter v. Erickson, 393 U.S. 385, 89 S.Ct. 557, 21 L.Ed.2d 616 (1969). The first paragraph in the District Court's decision stated simply: 'We hold Article XXXIV to be unconstitutional. See Hunter v. Erickson * * *.' The court below erred in relying on Hunter to invalidate Article XXXIV. Unlike the case before us, Hunter rested on the conclusion that Akron's referendum law denied equal protection by placing 'special burdens on racial minorities within the governmental process.' Id., at 391, 89 S.Ct., at 560. In Hunter the citizens of Akron had amended the city charter to require that any ordinance regulating real estate on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin could not take effect without approval by a majority of those voting in a city election. The Court held that the amendment created a classification based upon race because it required that laws dealing with racial housing matters could take effect only if they survived a mandatory referendum while

Page 141

other housing ordinances took effect without any such special election. The opinion noted:

'Because the core of the Fourteenth Amendment is the prevention of meaningful and unjustified official distinctions based on race, (citing a group of racial discrimination cases) racial classifications are 'constitutionally suspect' * * * and subject to the 'most rigid scrutiny.' * * * They 'bear a far heavier burden of justification' than other classifications.' Id., at 391—392, 89 S.Ct., at 561.

The Court concluded that Akron had advanced no sufficient reasons to justify this racial classification and hence that it was unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Unlike the Akron referendum provision, it cannot be said that California's Article XXXIV rests on 'distinctions based on race.' Id., at 391, 89 S.Ct., at 561. The Article requires referendum approval for any low-rent public housing project, not only for projects which will be occupied by a racial minority. And the record here would not support any claim that a law seemingly neutral on its face is in fact aimed at a racial...

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153 practice notes
  • Mahaley v. Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority, Civ. A. No. C 71-251
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Ohio
    • February 22, 1973
    ...780, 28 L.Ed.2d 113 (1971) (Prepayment of costs in divorce actions). These cases, however, must be read in light of James v. Valtierra, 402 U.S. 137, 91 S.Ct. 1331, 28 L.Ed.2d 678 (1971). The plaintiffs, who were eligible for low cost public housing, challenged the requirement of Article XX......
  • Robinson v. Cahill
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)
    • April 3, 1973
    ...v. Sills, 58 N.J. 464, 477, 279 A.2d 609 (1971), cert. denied 404 U.S. 986, 92 S.Ct. 450, 30 L.Ed.2d 370 (1971); see James v. Valtierra, 402 U.S. 137, 142--143, 91 S.Ct. 1331, 1334, 28 L.Ed.2d 678, 683 (1971). This is so unless it can be said that the equal protection clause holds education......
  • Sea Girt Restaurant v. Borough of Sea Girt, Civ. A. No. 85-5360.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
    • January 14, 1986
    ...brief, at 18). The referendum process has been applauded as a classic demonstration of "devotion to democracy." James v. Valtierra, 402 U.S. 137, 141, 91 S.Ct. 1331, 1333, 28 L.Ed.2d 678 (1971). The Supreme Court in Eastlake v. Forest City Enterprises, Inc., 426 U.S. 668, 678, 96 S.Ct. 2358......
  • Equality Foundation of Cincinnati v. Cincinnati, No. C-1-93-773.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Southern District of West Virginia
    • August 9, 1994
    ...for that group to enact legislation in its behalf; and so doing does not "demonstrate a devotion to democracy" James v. Valtierra, 402 U.S. 137, 141, 91 S.Ct. 1331, 1333, 28 L.Ed.2d 678 (1971), but rather makes a mockery of it. Allowing the majority to prohibit a small, unpopular group of c......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
151 cases
  • Mahaley v. Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority, Civ. A. No. C 71-251
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Ohio
    • February 22, 1973
    ...780, 28 L.Ed.2d 113 (1971) (Prepayment of costs in divorce actions). These cases, however, must be read in light of James v. Valtierra, 402 U.S. 137, 91 S.Ct. 1331, 28 L.Ed.2d 678 (1971). The plaintiffs, who were eligible for low cost public housing, challenged the requirement of Article XX......
  • Robinson v. Cahill
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)
    • April 3, 1973
    ...v. Sills, 58 N.J. 464, 477, 279 A.2d 609 (1971), cert. denied 404 U.S. 986, 92 S.Ct. 450, 30 L.Ed.2d 370 (1971); see James v. Valtierra, 402 U.S. 137, 142--143, 91 S.Ct. 1331, 1334, 28 L.Ed.2d 678, 683 (1971). This is so unless it can be said that the equal protection clause holds education......
  • Sea Girt Restaurant v. Borough of Sea Girt, Civ. A. No. 85-5360.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
    • January 14, 1986
    ...brief, at 18). The referendum process has been applauded as a classic demonstration of "devotion to democracy." James v. Valtierra, 402 U.S. 137, 141, 91 S.Ct. 1331, 1333, 28 L.Ed.2d 678 (1971). The Supreme Court in Eastlake v. Forest City Enterprises, Inc., 426 U.S. 668, 678, 96 S.Ct. 2358......
  • Equality Foundation of Cincinnati v. Cincinnati, No. C-1-93-773.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Southern District of West Virginia
    • August 9, 1994
    ...for that group to enact legislation in its behalf; and so doing does not "demonstrate a devotion to democracy" James v. Valtierra, 402 U.S. 137, 141, 91 S.Ct. 1331, 1333, 28 L.Ed.2d 678 (1971), but rather makes a mockery of it. Allowing the majority to prohibit a small, unpopular group of c......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2 books & journal articles
  • The Centrality of Exclusion: Legal Impediments to Keeping 'Undesirable' People and Uses Out of the Community
    • United States
    • Land use planning and the environment: a casebook
    • January 23, 2010
    ...that “provisions for referendums demonstrate devotion to democracy, not to bias, discrimination, or prejudice,” James v. Valtierra, 402 U.S. 137, 141 (1971). And our well established First Amendment admonition that “government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because societ......
  • The Supreme Court of the United States, 1970-1971
    • United States
    • Political Research Quarterly Nbr. 24-4, December 1971
    • December 1, 1971
    ...such referendums and the question was brought as to the validity of this in the light of the Equal Protection Clause ( James v. Valtierra, 402 U.S. 137; 91 S. Ct. 1331 ) . The use of the in this situation was upheld in an opinion by Justice Black (vote: 5-3, Marshall, Brennan and Blackmun d......

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