The Law School Authority

Shelley v. Kraemer Case Brief

Summary of Shelley v. Kraemer
334 U. S. 1, [1948]

Application of the Constitution to Private Conduct – Govt Enforcement of Private Decisions.

Relevant Facts: 2 cases amalgamated together with similar facts. One from Missouri, the other Michigan.  30 out of 39 owners of a section of St. Louis, signed an agreement, stating for 50 yrs., no part of the properties would be occupied by any person not of the Caucasian race, which was duly recorded.  The district described included 57 parcels of land where the owners held 47.  Shelly, petitioners, pursuant to a contract for sale exchanged valuable consideration for a warranty deed from Fitzgerald.  Trial ct found the petitioners had no actual knowledge of the restrictive covenant at the time of the purchase.

Legal Issue(s): Whether the 14th Amendment, E. P. Cl.,  prohibits judicial enforcement by state courts of restrictive covenants in real property transactions based on race?

Court’s Holding: Yes

Procedure: Respondent owners brought suit to restrain possession and divesting title from Shelly and revesting title.  Trial ct. denied.  S. Ct. Missouri reversed.  (Agreement was effective and enforcement violated not rights guaranteed by Constitution). Trial ct and S. Ct. of Michigan upheld the restrictive covenant. Both State’s decisions Reversed.

Law or Rule(s):No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the U. S.; nor deprive any person life, liberty, or property w/o due process of law; nor deny any person the equal protection of the law.

Court Rationale:  14th erects no shield against merely private conduct. Restrictive covenants standing alone cannot be regarded as a violation of any rights guaranteed to petitioners.  The States have not abstained from action, they have made available to such individuals the full coercive power of the state’s govt to deny to petitioners, on the basis of race or color, the enjoyment of property rights.  The action of state courts and of judicial officers in their official capacities is to be regarded as action of the State w/i the meaning of the 14th .   The judicial actions in each state bears the clear and unmistakable license under authority of the State to restrict property interests on the basis of color or race.  Such discrimination has occurred in these cases is clear.

Plaintiff’s Argument: judicial enforcement of private agreements is not State action under the 14th.

Defendant’s Argument: The purposes of the agreements, racial discrimination, were secured only be judicial enforcement by state courts.


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