Law Review Symposium Commemorates 40th Anniversary of Historic Family Law Case


In honor of the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision Moore v. City of East Cleveland, the Fordham Law Review and the Center on Race, Law, and Justice convened an October 14 symposium titled “Moore Kinship,” with leading scholars discussing the lawsuit’s meaning, the ongoing challenges facing families, the need to support all families regardless of structure, and the question of how to do so.

Professors Clare Huntington and Robin A. Lenhardt guided a series of four 90-minute roundtable discussions that examined Moore in-depth and explored concepts central to their fellow participants’ scholarly work on family law.

The case of Moore v. City of East Cleveland arrived before the Supreme Court in November 1976, more than three years after a widowed African-American grandmother named Inez Moore received notice that her grandson, John Jr., a first grader, would be unable to continue living with her because a local zoning ordinance did not allow some configurations of extended family members to live together. The Supreme Court ruled in spring 1977 that East Cleveland’s zoning ordinance was unconstitutional, a decision that reverberates to this day in questions about parents, families, and how gender, race, and class intersect with the law.

“The Moore decision is clearly fertile ground for scholars. It is fascinating to see the symposium papers and the directions people have taken the opinion or connected the opinion to ongoing work,” said Huntington, a family law expert and author of Failure to Flourish: How Law Undermines Family Relationships.

Lenhardt, faculty director of the Center on Race, Law, and Justice, provided a legal and social history of Moore based on her ongoing archival research, including on-the-ground reporting in East Cleveland that features interviews with people involved in the case. She has also revisited government and media documents to better understand the racial, educational, and zoning dynamics at play in the Cleveland suburb where the suit originated. Although the Supreme Court did not acknowledge these factors, Lenhardt explained how the increase in non-white, low-income families was a driving force behind the ordinance. As Lenhardt showed, today, an empty lot sits where Moore’s house once stood. The city of East Cleveland long ago demolished the house, and Moore’s family has dispersed to different cities and states.

While the Supreme Court made a conscious decision not to address the race and class dynamics that precipitated the zoning ordinance, Lenhardt encouraged her fellow professors to share with students how discrimination factors into family law.

“Race, along with class and gender, helps mediate all sorts of resources and access to institutions,” Lenhardt said, noting that acknowledging this frames the experiences of people like Inez Moore in the most instructive light.

In addition to sharing experiences teaching race in family law courses, the roundtable also analyzed how societal gender roles often conflict with modern familial realities and how the Moore decision intertwines with property law.

Sheila Foster, University Professor and Albert A. Walsh Professor of Law at Fordham Law, posed the question of what the world would look like without zoning ordinances, in which people freely organized themselves in multiple family domains.

“We often hear that the world is going to be urban by 2050, and what this means is that people will live in informal settlements,” Foster said. “That’s why land use and zoning need to be part of the family law conversation.”

At the end of the symposium, participants had not answered all the questions—it would be nearly impossible to do so—but they agreed the symposium had deepened their thinking about how family law can strengthen all families.


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