Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

Opinion of the Court. 334U.S.

want of the requisite number of signatures. In the Michigan case, the order of enforcement by the trial court was affirmed by the highest state court.23 The judicial action in each case bears the clear and unmistakable imprimatur of the State. We have noted that previous decisions of this Court have established the proposition that judicial action is not immunized from the operation of the Fourteenth Amendment simply because it is taken pursuant to the state's common-law policy.24 Nor is the Amendment ineffective simply because the particular pattern of discrimination, which the State has enforced, was defined initially by the terms of a private agreement. State action, as that phrase is understood for the purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment, refers to exertions of state power in all forms. And when the effect of that action is to deny rights subject to the protection of the Fourteenth Amendment, it is the obligation of this Court to enforce the constitutional commands.

We hold that in granting judicial enforcement of the restrictive agreements in these cases, the States have denied petitioners the equal protection of the laws and that, therefore, the action of the state courts cannot stand. We have noted that freedom from discrimination by the States in the enjoyment of property rights was among the basic objectives sought to be effectuated by the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment. That such discrimination has occurred in these cases is clear. Because of the race or color of these petitioners they have been denied rights of ownership or occupancy enjoyed as a matter of course by other citizens of different race or

23 Cf. Home Telephone and Telegraph Co. v. Los Angeles, 227 U. S. 278 (1913); Raymond v. Chicago Union Traction Co., 207 U.S.20 (1907).

24 Bridges v. California, 314 U. S. 252 (1941); American Federation of Labor v. Swing, 312 U.S. 321 (1941).

1 Opinion of the Court.

color." The Fourteenth Amendment declares "that all persons, whether colored or white, shall stand equal before the laws of the States, and, in regard to the colored race, for whose protection the amendment was primarily designed, that no discrimination shall be made against them by law because of their color." M Strauder v. West Virginia, supra at 307. Only recently this Court had occasion to declare that a state law which denied equal enjoyment of property rights to a designated class of citizens of specified race and ancestry, was not a legitimate exercise of the state's police power but violated the guaranty of the equal protection of the laws. Oyama v. California, 332 U. S. 633 (1948). Nor may the discriminations imposed by the state courts in these cases be justified as proper exertions of state police power.27 Cf. Buchanan v. Warley, supra.

Respondents urge, however, that since the state courts stand ready to enforce restrictive covenants excluding white persons from the ownership or occupancy of property covered by such agreements, enforcement of covenants excluding colored persons may not be deemed a denial of equal protection of the laws to the colored persons who are thereby affected.28 This contention does

25 See Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U. S. 356 (1886); Strauder v. West Virginia, 100 U. S. 303 (1880); Truax v. Raich, 239 U. S. 33 (1915).

2* Restrictive agreements of the sort involved in these cases have been used to exclude other than Negroes from the ownership or occupancy of real property. We are informed that such agreements have been directed against Indians, Jews, Chinese, Japanese, Mexicans, Hawaiians, Puerto Ricans, and Filipinos, among others.

« See Bridges v. California, 314 U. S. 252, 261 (1941); CantweU v. Connecticut, 310 U. S. 296,307-308 (1940).

28 It should be observed that the restrictions relating to residential occupancy contained in ordinances involved in the Buchanan, Harmon and Deans cases, cited supra, and declared by this Court to be inconsistent with the requirements of the Fourteenth Amendment, applied equally to white persons and Negroes.

Opinion of the Court. 334U.S.

not bear scrutiny. The parties have directed our attention to no case in which a court, state or federal, has been called upon to enforce a covenant excluding members of the white majority from ownership or occupancy of real property on grounds of race or color. But there are more fundamental considerations. The rights created by the first section of the Fourteenth Amendment are, by its terms, guaranteed to the individual. The rights established are personal rights.29 It is, therefore, no answer to these petitioners to say that the courts may also be induced to deny white persons rights of ownership and occupancy on grounds of race or color. Equal protection of the laws is not achieved through indiscriminate imposition of inequalities.

Nor do we find merit in the suggestion that property owners who are parties to these agreements are denied equal protection of the laws if denied access to the courts to enforce the terms of restrictive covenants and to assert property rights which the state courts have held to be created by such agreements. The Constitution confers upon no individual the right to demand action by the State which results in the denial of equal protection of the laws to other individuals. And it would appear beyond question that the power of the State to create and enforce property interests must be exercised within the boundaries defined by the Fourteenth Amendment. Cf. Marsh v. Alabama, 326 U S. 501 (1946).

The problem of defining the scope of the restrictions which the Federal Constitution imposes upon exertions of power by the States has given rise to many of the most persistent and fundamental issues which this Court has been called upon to consider. That problem was foremost in the minds of the framers of the Constitution,

*>McCabe v. Atchison, Topeka <{■ Santa Fe R. Co., 235 U. S. 151, 161-162 (1914); Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada, 305 U. S. 337 (1938); Oyama v. California, 332 U. S. 633 (1948).

1 Opinion of the Court.

and, since that early day, has arisen in a multitude of forms. The task of determining whether the action of a State offends constitutional provisions is one which may not be undertaken lightly. Where, however, it is clear that the action of the State violates the terms of the fundamental charter, it is the obligation of this Court so to declare.

The historical context in which the Fourteenth Amendment became a part of the Constitution should not be forgotten. Whatever else the framers sought to achieve, it is clear that the matter of primary concern was the establishment of equality in the enjoyment of basic civil and political rights and the preservation of those rights from discriminatory action on the part of the States based on considerations of race or color. Seventy-five years ago this Court announced that the provisions of the Amendment are to be construed with this fundamental purpose in mind.30 Upon full consideration, we have concluded that in these cases the States have acted to deny petitioners the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. Having so decided, we find it unnecessary to consider whether petitioners have also been deprived of property without due process of law or denied privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States.

For the reasons stated, the judgment of the Supreme Court of Missouri and the judgment of the Supreme Court of Michigan must be reversed.

Reversed.

Mr. Justice Reed, Mr. Justice Jackson, and Mr. JusTice Rutledge took no part in the consideration or decision of these cases.

""Slaughter-House Cases, 16 Wall. 36, 81 (1873); Strauder v. West Virginia, 100 U. S. 303 (1880). See Flack, The Adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Syllabus. 334 U. S.

HURD Et ux. v. HODGE Et Al.

NO. 290. CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA.*

Argued January 15-16, 1948.—Decided May 3,1948.

1. Covenants incorporated in private conveyances of real estate in the District of Columbia which forbid the rental, lease, sale, transfer or conveyance of the land to any Negro are valid; but their enforcement by the courts of the District of Columbia is prohibited by K. S. § 1978 guaranteeing to all citizens of the United States equal rights to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold and convey real and personal property. Pp. 30-34.

(a) The District of Columbia is included in the phrase "every State and Territory," as used in R. S. § 1978. P. 31.

(b) Congress has the constitutional power to enact such legislation for the District of Columbia. P. 31.

(c) The action toward which R. S. § 1978 is directed is governmental action; and it does not invalidate private agreements, so long as their purpose is achieved through voluntary adherence to their terms. P. 31.

(d) Judicial enforcement of such discriminatory covenants is prohibited by R. S. § 1978, which is derived from the Civil Rights Act and closely related to the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 31-34.

2. The power of the federal courts to enforce the terms of private agreements is at all times exercised subject to the restrictions and limitations of the public policy of the United States as manifested in the Constitution, treaties, federal statutes, and applicable legal precedents. Pp. 34-35.

3. Even in the absence of a statute such as R. S. § 1978, it is not consistent with the public policy of the United States to permit federal courts in the Nation's capital to exercise general equitable powers to compel action denied the state courts by the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 34-36.

82 U. S. App. D. C. 180, 162 F. 2d 233, reversed.

The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia affirmed a judgment of the District Court

•Together with No. 291, Urciolo et al. v. Hodge et al., also on certiorari to the same court.

« ForrigeFortsett »