Hastings Race and Poverty Law Journal


This article examines the holding in the archetypal case onstanding, Warth v. Seldin, through the lens of racial and economic discrimination. In Warth, five sets of plaintiffs brought a claim challenging the city of Penfield's zoning ordinances that prevented the construction of low and moderate-income housing in the area. The plaintiffs included low income, African- American and Puerto Rican residents of a nearby city who sought low income housing options in Penfield, taxpayers in the neighboring city, and a non-profit organization dedicated to combating discrimination in housing. The U.S. Supreme Court held that none of the plaintiffs had standing to challenge the constitutionality of the city's zoning practices and in doing so avoided the substantive issue of housing discrimination. The article contextualizes the racial and economic issues involved in Warth by discussing the socio-political climate that existed when the decision was made. The article questions whether Justice Lewis F. Powell, author of the majority opinion, was influenced by his upbringing in racially segregated Richmond, Virginia. It highlights Powell's failure to integrate schools during his tenure as chairman on the Richmond School Board post Brown v. Board of Education, as well as his strong opinions supporting free enterprise despite the disparities in wealth that system creates. In addition, this article analyzes Powell's papers on the Warth opinion and the behind the scenes deliberations of the case's issues. It uses Powell's own notes to explain how the Court came to the decision in Warth and criticizes Powell and the Court for failing to acknowledge the racial and economic issues pervading the case.

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