Reitman v. Mulkey Case Brief

Summary of Reitman v. Mulkey
387 U. S. 369 [1967]

Govt Approval of Private Activity:

Relevant Facts: The Mulkeys who are husband and wife and respondents here alleging that petitioners, Reitman, had refused to rent them an apartment solely on account of their race. An injunction and damages were demanded. In the Prendergast case, respondents, husband and wife, filed suit seeking to enjoin eviction from their apartment; respondents alleged that the eviction was motivated by racial prejudice. Prendergast case was held to violate 14th apart from Sec 26.

Legal Issue(s): Whether Article I, Sec. 26 of California Constitution, prohibiting state from denying right of any person to decline to sell, lease or rent his real property to such person as he in his absolute discretion chooses, would involve the state in private racial discriminations to an unconstitutional degree and deny to any person the equal protection of the laws within the meaning of the 14th ?

Court’s Holding: Yes

Procedure: Petitioners moved for summary judgment on the ground that the basis for the Mulkeys’ action had been rendered null and void by the adoption of Proposition 14 after the filing of the complaint. The trial court granted the motion and respondents took the case to the California Supreme Court. Reversed. Affirmed.

Law or Rule(s): Courts must assess potential impact of official action in determining whether state has significantly involved itself with invidious discriminations.

Court Rationale: In determining constitutionality of A1S26, California Supreme Court properly examined article in terms of its “immediate objective,” its “ultimate effect” and its “historical context and conditions existing prior to its enactment”. Proposition 14 ‘generally nullifies both the Rumford and Unruh Acts as they apply to the housing market,’ and establishes ‘a purported constitutional right to privately discriminate on grounds which admittedly would be unavailable under the Fourteenth Amendment should state action be involved.’ Here we are dealing with a provision which does not just repeal an existing law forbidding private racial discriminations. Section 26 was intended to authorize, and does authorize, racial discrimination in the housing market. The right to discriminate is now one of the basic policies of the State.

Plaintiff’s Argument: A1S26 denies equal protection of the law for those who are discriminated against in the pursuit of housing.

Defendant’s Argument: The State is assuming a neutral position with respect to private racial discrimination, and the State is not bound to forbid private discrimination.

Minority – Under the 14th State action must be affirmative and purposeful in fostering private discrimination before it can be labeled official and unconstitutional.

“Neither the State nor any subdivision or agency thereof shall deny, limit or abridge, directly or indirectly, the right of any person, who is willing or desires to sell, lease or rent any part or all of his real property, to decline to sell, lease or rent such property to such person or persons as he, in his absolute discretion, chooses."-Sec 26

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