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Shelley v. Kramer

    Citation. 334 U.S. 1, 68 S. Ct. 836, 92 L. Ed. 1161, 1948 U.S.

    Brief Fact Summary. Neighborhood in St. Louis Missouri consisting of thirty nine property owners, signed an agreement prohibiting use or occupancy of the properties by any person not of the Caucasian race. Petitioners, Shelleys, were African-American couple who purchased the deed with no knowledge of the restrictive agreement.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Judicial enforcement of a restrictive covenant based on race would deny the petitioners Equal Protection of the laws under the 14th Amendment.


    Facts. Restrictive covenant banned use or occupancy by “Negroes or Mongolians” for fifty years. Shelleys, petitioners, were unaware of the restrictive covenant at the time of purchase. The lived in the home for two months before the neighbors brought suit. Trial Court enforced the covenant and required Shelleys to vacate property within 90 days and the Supreme Court of Missouri affirmated.

    Issue. Are state court orders and decisions in an official capacity “actions of the state” for purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment?
    Would enforcement of the restrictive covenant by a state court deny the petitioners Equal Protection in violation of the Constitution?
    Can the neighbors voluntarily enforce such a covenant without a court order or state action?

    Held. Court states it has long been established that actions of court in official capacity are actions of the state for purposes of the Fourteenth amendment.
    In granting judicial enforcement of restrictive agreements in theses cases the States have denied petitioners equal protection. The Court noted that property rights particularly were among the basic objectives sought to by the framers of the Fourteenth amendment. A state’s decision that denied property ownership because of race was a denial of equal protection.
    The restrictive agreements standing alone did not violate the 14th amendment and could be adhered to voluntarily. It was the state action of enforcement that was unconstitutional.

    Discussion. Judicial action is state action. Although the court found the agreement could be adhered to voluntarily today it would probably violate the Fair Housing Act which was enacted in 1968 because it makes it unlawful to refuse to sell, rent etc. on the basis of race, sex, national origin etc.


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