Shelley V. Kraemer

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Shelley v. Kraemer (1948) that real estate deed restrictions that forbade the sale of land to non-Caucasians were unconstitutional and infringed on the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.


The Shelley family was an African-American family, settled in St. Louis, a Missouri neighborhood in 1945 that had long since enacted a racially restrictive agreement. A neighborhood resident named Louis Kraemer filed a lawsuit in Illinois state court to enforce the agreement and stop the Shelleys from owning property there. The Shelleys appealed the matter to the Supreme Court after the State court enforced the agreements on the grounds that it was a private action.


In a decision written by Chief Justice Vinson, the Supreme Court ruled that the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment is violated when such agreements are enforced. The problem in this case was that private owners made a covenant and the Fourteenth Amendment applies to state action. It is evident that had a state passed a law banning property ownership purely on the basis of race, that measure would be in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment was broken by the judicial enforcement of racially restrictive covenants because it involved state, not private action, the Supreme Court found in the Shelleys’ favor. If the state were to uphold the racially restrictive covenant, it would engage in racial discrimination and infringe upon the Shelleys’ constitutional right to equal protection under the law.


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