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Shelley v. Kraemer


Shelley v. Kraemer

Shelley v. Kraemer
Argued January 15, 1948
Decided May 3, 1948
Full case name Shelley et ux. v. Kraemer et ux. McGhee et ux. v. Sipes et al.
Citations 334 U.S. 1 (more)
68 S. Ct. 836; 92 L. Ed. 1161; 3 A.L.R.2d 441
Prior history Judgment for defendants; reversed, 198 S.W.2d 679 (Mo. 1947); certiorari granted. Judgment for plaintiffs; affirmed 25 N.W.2d 638 (Mich. 614); certiorari granted.
The Fourteenth Amendment prohibits a state from enforcing restrictive covenants that would prohibit a person from owning or occupying property based on race or color.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Vinson, joined by Black, Frankfurter, Douglas, Murphy, Burton
Reed, Jackson, Rutledge took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. XIV

Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1 (1948), is a landmark[1] United States Supreme Court case which held that courts could not enforce racial covenants on real estate.

Facts of the case

In 1945, an African-American family by the name of Shelley purchased a house in St. Louis, Missouri. At the time of purchase, they were unaware that a restrictive covenant had been in place on the property since 1911. The restrictive covenant barred "people of the Negro or Asian Race" from occupying the property. Louis Kraemer, who lived ten blocks away from the purchased housing, sued to restrain the Shelleys from taking possession of the property they had purchased. The Supreme Court of Missouri held that the covenant was enforceable against the purchasers because the covenant was a purely private agreement between the original parties thereto, which "ran with the land" and was enforceable against subsequent owners; since the restriction purported to run in favor of an estate rather than merely a person, it could be enforced against third parties. A materially similar scenario took place in the companion case McGhee v. Sipes from Detroit, Michigan, where the McGhees purchased land subject to a similar restrictive covenant. The Supreme Court consolidated the two cases for oral arguments.

Legal questions

The Court considered two questions: are racially-based restrictive covenants legal under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, and can they be enforced by a court of law?

Decision of the Court

The United States Supreme Court held "[T]he restrictive racially-based restrictive covenants are not, on their face, invalid under the Fourteenth Amendment." However, private parties may voluntarily abide by the terms of a restrictive covenant but may not seek judicial enforcement of such a covenant because enforcement by the courts would constitute state action. Since such state action would necessarily be discriminatory, the enforcement of a racially-based restrictive covenant in a state court would violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The court rejected an argument that since state courts would enforce a restrictive covenant against white persons, judicial enforcement of restrictive covenants would not be a violation of the Equal Protection Clause. The court noted that the Fourteenth Amendment guaranteed individual rights, and equal protection of the law is not achieved with the imposition of inequalities.

The attorneys who argued the case for the McGhees were Thurgood Marshall and Loren Miller. The United States Solicitor General, Philip Perlman, who argued in this case that the restrictive covenants were unconstitutional, had previously in 1925 as the city solicitor of Baltimore acted to support the city government's segregation efforts.[2]

Hurd v. Hodge and Urciolo v. Hodge[3] were companion cases from the District of Columbia; the Equal Protection Clause does not explicitly apply to United States territory which is not inside a state, but the Court found that both the Civil Rights Act of 1866, and treating persons in the District like those in the States, forbade restrictive covenants.

The Solicitor General's brief

The Solicitor General's brief filed on behalf of the United States government was written by four Jewish lawyers: Philip Elman, Oscar Davis, Hilbert Zarky, and Stanley Silverberg. However, the Solicitor General’s office chose to omit their names from the brief. The principal assistant to the Solicitor General, Arnold Raum, who was also Jewish, stated that it was "bad enough that Perlman’s name has to be there, to have one Jew’s name on it, but you have also put four more Jewish names on. That makes it look as if a bunch of Jewish lawyers in the Department of Justice put this out."[4]

See also


  1. ^ "Shelley House". We Shall Overcome: Historic Places of the Civil Rights Movement.  
  2. ^ Mitchell, Juanita Jackson (2004). "Meade v. Dennistone: The NAACP's Test Case to "... Sue Jim Crow Out of Maryland with the Fourteenth Amendment". Maryland Law Review (Baltimore, Maryland: University of Maryland School of Law) 63: 807. 
  3. ^ 334 U.S. 24
  4. ^ Elman, Philip; Silber, Norman (1987). "The Solicitor General’s Office, Justice Frankfurter, and Civil Rights Litigation, 1946–1960: An Oral History".  

Further reading

External links

Works related to Shelley v. Kraemer at Wikisource

  • Full text of the decision courtesy of
  • [1]"Orsel McGhee House," A Michigan State Historic Site]. Detroit: The History and Future of the Motor City Website Accessed 26 March 2014
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