A nonprofit group that sought permission to build the apartments in Cuyahoga Falls, outside Akron, did not show that the city had a racial motive in delaying construction, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the court.
The group should not be able to press ahead with a $3 million lawsuit over claims that city officials teamed up with disgruntled voters to stave off integration, the court said.
The apartments eventually went up, after a court overturned a 1996 referendum by city voters opposing construction. Buckeye Community Hope Foundation claimed that city officials coached residents opposed to the apartments and used the referendum process to sabotage the project.
The city's mayor was among opponents to the 72-unit complex, known as Pleasant Meadows.
The city claimed the referendum was a legitimate way for residents to debate concerns about housing values and quality of life, and the high court agreed.
"City officials enabled public debate on the referendum to take place, thus advancing significant First Amendment interests," the court said.
The city followed its own, nondiscriminatory policies in handling the referendum, and cannot be blamed for allegedly racist motives of some of the referendum backers, the high court said.
The developers "point to no evidence suggesting that these official acts were themselves motivated by racial animus," O'Connor wrote.
Fewer than 2 percent of Cuyahoga Falls' nearly 50,000 residents are black. Black households make up a large percentage of the Buckeye Community Hope's low-income housing projects in the state.
The Bush administration backed Cuyahoga Falls in the case, City of Cuyahoga Falls v. Buckeye Community Hope Foundation, 01-1269.
In another court ruling:
The Supreme Court clarified its rules for some old death row appeals Tuesday, ruling that a California killer is not exempt from a 1996 law intended to limit the seemingly endless rounds of litigation that typically preceded execution.
Only death row inmates who had filed a full-blown appeal before the law went into effect qualify for an exemption, the court ruled by a vote of 6-3. Robert Frederick Garceau had filed some paperwork toward his federal habeas corpus appeal, but not a full appeal based on the merits of his case.