Shelley v. Kraemer Case Brief

Facts of the case

In 1911, a St. Louis, Missouri neighborhood enacted a racially restrictive covenant designed to prevent African-Americans and Asian-Americans from living in the area. In 1945, an African-American family (the Shelleys) moved into the neighborhood. Louis Kraemer brought suit to enforce the covenant and prevent the Shelleys from moving into their house. A similar lawsuit arose in Detroit, Michigan. Both state supreme courts enforced the covenants because they were private rather than state action. The Supreme Court consolidated the cases on appeal.

Why is the case important?

Petitioners Shelley, who were black, bought a home in a neighborhood in which thirty out of thirty-nine parcel owners had signed a restrictive covenant which stated that no home was to be sold to any person who was black, which led to the suit by the neighborhood to undo the sale of the property to Shelley.

Question

Does the action of the state court in enforcing the restrictive covenant deprive Petitioner of rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment and acts of Congress?

ANSWER

Yes. The judgment of the Supreme Court of Missouri is reversed.

CONCLUSION

While restrictive covenants as to ownership or occupancy of property, based on race or color, cannot in themselves be regarded as a violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, judicial enforcement by state courts of such covenants is inhibited by the equal protection clause of such Amendment, even though such courts stand ready to enforce restrictive covenants irrespective of the race of which exclusion is sought. Among the civil rights intended to be protected from discriminatory state action by the Fourteenth Amendment are the rights to acquire, enjoy, own and dispose of property.

  • Advocates: Philip B. Perlman Solicitor General, Department of Justice, as amicus curiae, by special leave of Court George L. Vaughn for the petitioners in No. 72 Herman Willer for the petitioners in No. 72 Gerald L. Seegers for the respondents in No. 72 Loren Miller for the petitioners in No. 87 Thurgood Marshall for the petitioners in No. 87 Henry Gilligan for the respondents in No. 87 and the respondents in Nos. 290 and 291 James A. Crooks for the respondents in No. 87 and the respondents in Nos. 290 and 291 Charles H. Houston for the petitioners in Nos. 290 and 291 Phineas Indritz for the petitioners in Nos. 290 and 291
  • Petitioner: J. D. Shelley and Ethel Lee Shelley et al.
  • Respondent: Louis Kraemer and Fern Kraemer
  • DECIDED BY:Vinson Court
  • Location: The Kraemers’ Property
Citation: 334 US 1 (1948)
Argued: Jan 15 – 16, 1948
Decided: May 3, 1948
Shelley v. Kraemer Case Brief