Buchanan v. Warley Case Brief

Facts of the Case

The seller, who was a white person, brought suit for specific performance against the purchaser, who was a black person, on a contract for the sale of real property. The purchaser asserted as a defense a local ordinance that forbade black persons from purchasing the lot in question. The seller asserted that the ordinance was unconstitutional upon the ground that it violated thebecause it abridged the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States to acquire and enjoy property, took property without due process of law, and denied equal protection of the laws. The seller thus argued that the ordinance should not be a bar to the buyer’s performance of the contract to sell the property. The Kentucky Court of Appeals found the ordinance to be constitutional and a complete defense to the action. The seller appealed.


Did the warrantless, aerial observation of Ciraolo’s back yard from an altitude of 1,000 feet constitute an illegal search and violate the Fourth Amendment?


“Yes. In a unanimous decision, the Court reversed the Kentucky Court of Appeals and ruled that the ordinance was unconstitutional. In an opinion written by Justice William R. Day, the Court recognized Louisville’s interest in exercising its police power and the “promotion of the public health, safety, and welfare.” However, the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the Fourteenth Amendment “[assured] to the colored race the enjoyment of all the civil rights…enjoyed by white persons.” Louisville’s interest did not justify the ordinance, which would “deny rights created or protected by the Federal Constitution.” Therefore, the ordinance was unconstitutional.”

Case Information

Citation: 245 US 60 (1917)
Argued: Apr 12, 1916