How a 1970s Arlington Heights case is affecting Trump's travel ban

 
 
Updated 3/21/2017 9:50 AM
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  • According to a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling involving a 1970s housing lawsuit in Arlington Heights, judges are free to consider Donald Trump's statements while ruling on the legality of his revised travel ban.

    According to a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling involving a 1970s housing lawsuit in Arlington Heights, judges are free to consider Donald Trump's statements while ruling on the legality of his revised travel ban. Associated Press

  • In the first of several states to challenge Donald Trump's revised travel ban, Hawaii Attorney General Douglas Chin works in his Honolulu office. A 40-year-old housing lawsuit in Arlington Heights set a precedent that judges are free to consider statements by public officials to weigh intent, and that's applying to Trump's tweets and comments.

    In the first of several states to challenge Donald Trump's revised travel ban, Hawaii Attorney General Douglas Chin works in his Honolulu office. A 40-year-old housing lawsuit in Arlington Heights set a precedent that judges are free to consider statements by public officials to weigh intent, and that's applying to Trump's tweets and comments. Associated Press

One of the factors playing a role in stopping Donald Trump from enforcing his reworked travel ban is an Arlington Heights housing lawsuit from the 1970s that went to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In granting a temporary restraining order that prevents the 90-day ban on travel into the U.S. by citizens of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, and a 120-day pause on refugee resettlement from any country, U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson of Hawaii cited the Arlington Heights case on page 32 in his ruling against Donald J. Trump, et al. The case also was cited last month by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which let stand a temporary restraining order stopping Trump's initial travel ban.

"I think it's fascinating," Robin Ward, the in-house counsel for the village of Arlington Heights, says about the impact of a 40-year-old court case. Ward, who has been working for the village since May 1988, hadn't even started law school when the original decision came down.

The case began in 1971 when the Clerics of St. Viator wanted to use part of their land for affordable housing. The not-for-profit Metropolitan Housing Development Corp. applied to rezone a 15-acre parcel south of St. Viator High School from single-family to multiple-family classification so it could build 190 townhouse units in 20 two-story buildings for low- and moderate-income tenants, including many black people.

The village denied the zoning request, igniting a federal lawsuit alleging Arlington Heights' decision was "racially discriminatory" and violated the 14th Amendment and the Fair House Act of 1968. The 1970 census indicated that only 27 of the village's 64,000 residents were black. Before denying the zoning change, the village held three public meetings that drew "large crowds," many of whom were "quite vocal and demonstrative" in opposition to the "social issue" of the development, which was to be called Lincoln Green, according to the Supreme Court decision.

Among those who testified in lower court was "a Negro," according to the records, who worked at the Honeywell factory in Arlington Heights and was looking to move out of the five-room house in Evanston that he shared with his mother and son.

Three black people and one Mexican-American testified they were being discriminated against because of their race.

A federal district court ruled Arlington Heights officials "were not motivated by racial discrimination … but rather by a desire to protect property values and the integrity of the village's zoning plan."

An appeals court reversed that decision, ruling that the "ultimate effect" of the zoning change denial was "racially discriminatory." Legendary village attorney Jack Siegel, who died in 2014 at age 88, argued Arlington Heights' case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

On Jan. 11, 1977, the justices ruled that there was no proof of unconstitutional discrimination. Arlington Heights eventually approved the building of low- and moderate-income housing in another part of the village.

But the case remains relevant today because the Supreme Court considered "circumstantial and direct evidence of intent," meaning that the comments made by public officials could be considered in a ruling.

In today's world with so many statements made on Twitter, Facebook and other social media, courts have more evidence to consider. Just because the justices found no "invidious discriminatory purpose" by Arlington Heights officials in the 1970s, they still made it clear they had the right to consider what had been said by officials.

U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson last week in Honolulu cited a 1970s housing case in Arlington Heights as part of the reason he issued a temporary restraining order against the Trump Administration's revised travel ban.
U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson last week in Honolulu cited a 1970s housing case in Arlington Heights as part of the reason he issued a temporary restraining order against the Trump Administration's revised travel ban. - Associated Press

"These plainly worded statements, made in the months leading up to and contemporaneous with the signing of the Executive Order, and, in many cases, made by the Executive himself, betray the Executive Order's stated secular purpose," Watson wrote in his Trump travel ban ruling that cited the Arlington Heights case.

"It's pretty interesting," Ward says. "For people who think Supreme Court decisions don't mean anything, this is proof they do."

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