Francis C. Welch owned property in a residential section of Boston where building height was legislatively limited to . In other, more commercial sections of the city, the legislation permitted building height up to . After he wa denied a permit to construct a building on his property, Welch sued, contending “that the purposes of the acts are not such as justify the exercise of what is termed the police power, because, in fact, their real purpose was of an aesthetic nature, designed purely to preserve architectural symmetry and regular skylines.”
Delivering the opinion of the Court, Justice Rufus Wheeler Peckham acknowledged Welch's claim that “there is here a discrimination or classification between sections of the city,” but nonetheless adopted a standard of review very deferential to local government. “If the means employed, pursuant to the statute, have no real, substantial relation to a public object which government can accomplish, if the statutes are arbitrary and unreasonable, and beyond the necessities of the case, the courts will declare their invalidity,” wrote Peckham, also expressing that the Court “feels the greatest reluctance in interfering with the well-considered judgments of the courts of a state whose people are to be affected by the operation of the law.”
The reason for this reluctance was the Court's sense that, in such cases, the decision was location specific: “[t]he particular circumstances prevailing at the place or in the state where the law is, to become operative … are all matters which the state court is familiar with; but a like familiarity cannot be ascribed to this court.” Although not entitled to absolute deference, such a state court judgment “is entitled to the very greatest respect, and will only be interfered with, in cases of this kind, where the decision is, in our judgment, plainly wrong.”
In Defense of "Footnote Four": A Historical Analysis of the New Deal's Effect on Land Regulation in the U.S. Supreme Court
Jan 01, 2009; At the turn of the nineteenth century, the U.S. Supreme Court established and reinforced numerous so-called "economic rights."...