''Shelley v. Kraemer'', 334 U.S. 1 (1948), is a landmark United States Supreme Court case that struck down racially restrictive housing covenants. The case arose after an African-American family purchased a house in St. Louis that was subject to a restrictive covenant preventing "people of the Negro or Mongolian Race" from occupying the property. The purchase was challenged in court by a neighboring resident, and was blocked by the Supreme Court of Missouri before going to the U.S. Supreme Court on appeal. In a majority opinion that was joined by the other five participating justices, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Fred Vinson struck down the covenant, holding that the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause prohibits racially restrictive housing covenants from being enforced. Vinson held that private parties could abide by the terms of a racially restrictive covenant, but that judicial enforcement of the covenant qualified as a state action and was thus prohibited by the Equal Protection Clause.


In 1945, an African-American family by the name of Shelley purchased a house in St. Louis, Missouri. At the time of purchase, they were unaware that a restrictive covenant had been in place on the property since 1911. The restrictive covenant prevented "people of the Negro or Mongolian Race" from occupying the property. Louis Kraemer, who lived ten blocks away, sued to prevent the Shelleys from gaining possession of the property. The Supreme Court of Missouri held that the covenant was enforceable against the purchasers because the covenant was a purely private agreement between its original parties. As such, it "ran with the land" and was enforceable against subsequent owners. Moreover, since it ran in favor of an estate rather than merely a person, it could be enforced against a third party. A materially similar scenario occurred in the companion case ''McGhee v. Sipes'' from Detroit, Michigan, where the McGhees purchased land that was subject to a similar restrictive covenant. In that case, the Supreme Court of Michigan also held the covenants enforceable. The Supreme Court consolidated ''Shelley v. Kraemer'' and ''McGhee v. Sipes'' cases for oral arguments and considered two questions: * Are race-based restrictive covenants legal under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution? * Can they be enforced by a court of law?

Legal representation

George L. Vaughn was a black attorney who represented J. D. Shelley at the Supreme Court of the United States. The attorneys who argued the case for the McGhees were Thurgood Marshall and Loren Miller. The United States Solicitor General, Philip Perlman, who argued in this case that the restrictive covenants were unconstitutional, had previously in 1925 as the city solicitor of Baltimore acted to support the city government's segregation efforts.

Solicitor General's brief

The Solicitor General's brief filed on behalf of the United States government was written by four Jewish lawyers: Philip Elman, Oscar H. Davis, Hilbert P. Zarky, and Stanley M. Silverberg. However, the Solicitor General's office chose to omit their names from the brief. Deputy Solicitor General Arnold Raum, who was also Jewish, stated that it was "bad enough that olicitor General PhilipPerlman's name has to be there, to have one Jew's name on it, but you have also put four more Jewish names on. That makes it look as if a bunch of Jewish lawyers in the Department of Justice put this out."


The Supreme Court held "that the aciallyrestrictive agreements, standing alone, cannot be regarded as violative of any rights guaranteed to petitioners by the Fourteenth Amendment." Private parties might abide by the terms of such a restrictive covenant, but they might not seek judicial enforcement of such a covenant, as that would be a state action. Because such state action would be discriminatory, the enforcement of a racially based restrictive covenant in a state court would therefore violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The court rejected the argument that since state courts would enforce a restrictive covenant against white people, judicial enforcement of restrictive covenants would not violate the Equal Protection Clause. The court noted that the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees individual rights, and that equal protection of the law is not achieved by the imposition of inequalities:


Three justices—Robert H. Jackson, Stanley Reed and Wiley B. Rutledge—recused themselves from the case because they owned property subject to restrictive covenants.

Companion cases

''Hurd v. Hodge'' and ''Urciolo v. Hodge'' were companion cases from the District of Columbia. The Equal Protection Clause does not explicitly apply to a U.S. territory not in a U.S. state, but the Court found that both the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and treating persons in the District of Columbia like those in the states forbade restrictive covenants.

In popular culture

In 2010, Jeffrey S. Copeland published ''Olivia's Story: The Conspiracy of Heroes Behind Shelley v. Kraemer'', a literary nonfiction account of events leading up to the ''Shelley v. Kraemer'' case. In 2017, a documentary film was made titled ''The Story of Shelley v. Kraemer''. The script for the film was written by Copeland, and it was produced by Joe Marchesani and Laney Kraus-Taddeo of the Audio/Video Production Services division of Educational Technology and Media Services at the University of Northern Iowa (Cedar Falls, Iowa). The film has been a featured part of the exhibit titled "#1 in Civil Rights: The African American Freedom Struggle in St. Louis",Russell, Stefene. "At the Missouri History Museum,
#1 in Civil Rights' Corrects the Record
. ''Missouri History Museum Newsletter''. (20 July 2017).
at the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis. The film was also nominated for the Sundance Film Festival.

See also

*List of United States Supreme Court cases, volume 334 *Shelley House (St. Louis, Missouri), a National Historic Landmark *''Buchanan v. Warley'' (1917), a U.S. Supreme Court case which overturned racial zoning ordinances *''Corrigan v. Buckley'' (1926), a U.S. Supreme Court case which upheld racially restrictive covenants *''Hansberry v. Lee'' (1940), a U.S. Supreme Court case which allowed renewed challenges to racial covenants *Civil Rights Act of 1968, of which Titles VIII–IX prohibit discrimination in housing for multiple reasons *''Noble v. Alley'', a similar case decided by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1951



* * * *

External links

* *
"Orsel McGhee House"
A Michigan State Historic Site. ''Detroit: The History and Future of the Motor City'' website. Accessed 26 March 2014. * {{US14thAmendment Category:United States equal protection case law Category:United States Supreme Court cases Category:United States land use case law Category:Legal history of Missouri Category:20th-century American trials Category:1948 in United States case law Category:1948 in Missouri Category:American Civil Liberties Union litigation Category:Housing rights activism Category:African-American history between emancipation and the civil rights movement Category:United States Supreme Court cases of the Vinson Court Category:Civil rights movement case law Category:Housing in Missouri