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Shelley v. Kraemer

Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1, is an important civil rights case decided by Chief Justice Vinson in 1948.

The facts: In 1945, a black family by the name of Shelley purchased a home in St. Louis, Missouri. They did not know, but an agreement -- called a restrictive covenant -- had been in effect since 1911. The restrictive covenant barred black or Asian persons from owning property in the neighborhood. The neighbors sued to restrain the Shelleys from taking possession of the property.

The Supreme Court of the United States considered two questions. (1) Are (race-based) restrictive covenants legal under the Fourteenth Amendment? (2) Can they be enforced by a court of law?

The court held that, technically, restrictive covenants are legal because (at least in 1948) private agreements to exclude persons on the basis of race did not offend the Fourteenth Amendment. The 14th Amendment only prevents public, state-sponsored discrimination.

However, the Supreme Court held that it would be unconstitutional for a court to enforce a restrictive covenant. A court is obviously a public body, and as such, is subject to the Fourteenth Amendment.

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