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Shelley v. Kraemer

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

A group of property owners signed an agreement that would prevent minorities from buying property in the neighborhood.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

If a covenant is racially discriminatory, judicial enforcement would constitute state action and thus be in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.


A group of property owners entered into an agreement which restricted the sale of land to whites only. Forty-seven parcels of land, out of fifty in the area, were involved in the agreement. Shelley (Petitioner) bought one of the parcels but did not know of the restrictive agreement at the time of the purchase. The owners of other property subject to the restrictive covenant (Respondents) brought suit to prevent Petitioner from taking the property.


If the judiciary attempts to enforce a covenant made by private individuals that discriminates based on race, will that action violate the Fourteenth Amendment?


Yes. Judgment reversed.
The Fourteenth Amendment protects people from discriminatory state action and protects the right to acquire, enjoy, own and dispose of property.
The restrictions seek to exclude a class defined by race or color. But, the restrictions are done by private individuals, not the state. The Amendment does not shield against private conduct, no matter how discriminatory or wrong. So the restrictions standing alone do not violate any Fourteenth Amendment rights.
The action of state courts is action of the state within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment. The enforcement of the restrictions by courts is state action because the full coercive power of government denies Petitioner the right to enjoyment of property rights. Therefore, the courts cannot enforce the covenants because doing so would violate the Fourteenth Amendment.


When a covenant is racially discriminatory, the courts will not enforce it because doing so would violate the Constitution. All individuals have the right to participate in the housing market.

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