二、Shelley v. Kraemer
The Petitioners had purchased a home burdened by restrictive covenants that excluded non-whites from purchasing real property in the neighborhood. The Respondents, Kraemer and others (Respondents), had brought an action in state court seeking to enforce the covenant provisions. The state court upheld the provisions and ruled the Respondents were entitled to an injunction prohibiting the Petitioners from occupying the property. The Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court), in analyzing the case, stated that the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, applied only to state action and not to the conduct of private individuals. Next, the Supreme Court stated that the restrictive covenants prohibiting non-whites from purchasing property in the neighborhood was a private action and thus did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. The Supreme Court then reasoned that the enforcement of the restrictive covenants by a state court triggered state action, thus, permitting the Petitioners to argue their Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated.
Whether the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the constitution inhibits judicial enforcement by state courts of restrictive covenants based on race or color?
Held. Yes. Judgment of the lower state courts reversed. Among the civil rights intended to be protected from discriminatory state action by the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution are the rights to acquire, enjoy, own and dispose of property. However, the patterns of discrimination are by terms of agreements among private individuals. The action inhibited in the first section of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution is only the state’s action. Therefore, the restrictive covenants standing alone cannot be regarded as violative of any rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. However, since the purposes of the agreements and the restrictive terms of the agreements were secured only by judicial enforcement by state courts, such state action results in a violation of equal protection. Thus, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution inhibits judicial enforcement by state courts of restrictive covenants based on race or color.
This was a groundbreaking case at the time because it expanded the scope of what conduct can be considered state action under the Fourteenth Amendment. Since then, many laws at federal, state, and local levels have unambiguously banned discrimination in private residential housing.