Shelley et ux. v. Kraemer et ux.
Decided on May 3, 1948; 334 US 1


I. ISSUES II. CASE SUMMARY III. AMICI CURIAE IV. DECISION V. WIN OR LOSS?
I. ISSUES:

A. Issues Discussed: Racial discrimination, equal protection, restrictive covenants

B. Legal Question Presented:

Does the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment inhibit judicial enforcement by state courts of private restrictive covenants based on race or color? And does the enforcement by state courts of the restrictive agreements in these cases constitute sufficient state action denying the Petitioners equal protection of the law?

II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

The facts of both cases are similar. Neighbors organized and signed agreements restricting ownership and use of real estate properties to "person of Caucasian race." Following Petitioners' purchase of properties in areas subject to these covenants, Respondents filed suits to enforce the agreements. Petitioners were black and had no knowledge of the restrictive covenants at the time they purchased their properties.

In the Shelley case the trial court denied relief based on its finding that the agreement had not become final, but on appeal the Supreme Court of Missouri reversed the judgment. In the McGhee case the trial court "enjoined and restrained" Petitioners from using the property and on appeal the Supreme Court of Michigan affirmed.

On certiorari the US Supreme Court reversed the judgments of the Supreme Courts of Missouri and Michigan.

B. Counsel of Record:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable
C. The Arguments:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable
III. AMICI CURIAE:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Brief of amici curiae urging reversal was filed by Mr. Philip B. Perlman, Sol. Gen., of Washington, DC, for the United States.

Messrs. George L. Vaughn and Herman Willer, both of St. Louis, Mo., for petitioners Shelley. Messrs. Thurgood Marshall, of New York City, Loren Miller, for petitioners McGhee.
Mr. Gerald L. Seegers, of St. Louis, Mo., for respondents Kraemer. Messrs. Henry Gilligan and James A. Crooks, both of Washington, D.C. for respondents Sipes and others.

IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

"[T]he principle has become firmly embedded in our constitutional law that the action inhibited by the first section of the Fourteenth Amendment is only such action as may fairly be said to be that of the States. That Amendment erects no shield against merely private conduct, however discriminatory or wrongful. We conclude, therefore, that the restrictive agreements standing alone cannot be regarded as a violation of any rights guaranteed to petitioners by the Fourteenth Amendment...

But here there was more. These are cases in which the purposes of the agreements were secured only by judicial enforcement by state courts of the restrictive terms of the agreements...

These are not cases, as has been suggested, in which the States have merely abstained from action, leaving private individuals free to impose such discriminations as they see fit. Rather, these are cases in which the States have made available to such individuals the full coercive power of government to deny to petitioners, on the grounds of race or color, the enjoyment of property rights in premises which petitioners are willing and financially able to acquire and which the grantors are willing to sell...

We hold that in granting judicial enforcement of the restrictive agreements in these cases, the States have denied petitioners the equal protection of the laws and that, therefore, the action of the state courts cannot stand."

The US Supreme Court reversed the judgments of the Supreme Courts of Missouri and Michigan.

Justice Vote: 6 Pro vs. 0 Con
 
  • Vinson, F. Pro (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Black, H. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Frankfurter, F. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Douglas, W. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Murphy, F. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Burton, H. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Reed, S. Took no part in the decision
  • Jackson, R. Took no part in the decision
  • Rutledge, W. Took no part in the decision
V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

The ACLU, as amicus curiae, urged reversal of the judgments of the Supreme Courts of Missouri and Michigan; the Supreme Court reversed in a 6-0 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.