Shelley v. Kraemer Case Brief

Summary of Shelley v. Kraemer, U.S. Supreme Ct. (1948)

Parties: Petitioners are an African-American family. Respondents are covenantees/covenantors.

Cause of action/remedy sought: The following is a legal action for rescission and of due process (privileges & immunities)

Procedural History: Circuit Ct. (trial court) granted injunction against petitioners. MO Supreme Ct. directed the trial court to reverse, and they refused on the basis that their decision did not violate any rights of petitioners. The Court granted cert from Supreme Ct. of MO and the Court reverses the Supreme Ct. of MO’s decision.

Second case: petitioners told to move from land w/in 90 days, and were further enjoined and restrained from using property in the future. Supreme Ct. of MI affirmed trial court, denying petitioners’ 14th Amendment claim. The Court reverses.

Facts: Shelleys owned title to land which was bound by a restrictive covenant against non-caucasions by 30 neighbors who owned 47 out of 57 parcels of land in the community. Petitioners residence was on one of those 47 covenanted lands.

Second case involved petitioners, also African-Americans, who by deed acquired title to the restricted property and entered into its occupancy. Respondents, as owners of the property, brought suit claiming they violated the terms of the covenant.

Issue(s): Under federal property law, does a race-restrictive covenant violate any 14th Amendment rights or public policy when the residents who petition in this situation are already living on the land which was covenanted and which they violate by means of race?

Holding: Yes. The States have denied petitioners the equal protection of the laws and that, therefore, the action of the state courts cannot stand. Enjoyment of property rights is an essential freedom sought by the Framers of the 14th Amendment. But for the discrimination on basis of race or color, petitioners were denied those rights.

Court’s Rationale/Reasoning: These are not the traditional city, state or town councils passing laws to a discriminatory effect, but neighborhood covenants to the same effect. These are private individuals, and the first consideration is whether that fact removes these cases from 14th Amendment concern. Since the Civil Rights Cases, the Court has held the 14th Amendment does not protect people from private actions, as only the states can.

But here there is more, as the covenants were upheld by the state courts, and not by voluntary adherence, so there is an actionable cause by petitioners after all. But for the state court actions, petitioners would have been able to live in their homes and occupy their properties w/o restraint.

Rule: When an action’s effect by the State is to deny rights subject to the protections of the 14th Amendment, it is the obligation of this Court to enforce Constitutional amendments.

Did court avoid issues?: did it sidestep any questions that it initially appeared that it would have to answer?

Dicta: This is a case of first impression.

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