Looking Back - Shelley v. Kraemer

Law Day artwork courtesy of the American Bar Association

Law Day artwork courtesy of the American Bar Association

On this date in 1948, in its landmark decision in Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1 (1948), the highest court in the nation struck down racially restricted covenants placed on real property on the ground that such agreements denied the prospective property owners equal protection of the laws. The agreements in question, executed by a majority of property owners restricted the occupation of said properties on the basis of race. In 1945, petitioners Shelley, unaware of these restrictive covenants, received a warranty deed to a house on Labadie Avenue in St. Louis, Missouri. Respondents, owners whose properties were also subject to the agreement, filed an action in the state court in Missouri asking the court to restrain the Shelleys from taking possession of the property and to divest them of title to the property. The trial court refused to enforce the agreement, finding that the agreement was never finalized because the parties intended it to be effective once all property owners signed it. On appeal, the Supreme Court of Missouri reversed the trial court’s judgment, directing the lower court to grant the relief requested by respondent property owners.

Image of the Shelley House - courtesy of the National Park Service, United States Department of the Interior. Photo by Gerald L. Gilleard.

The Shelleys appealed to the United States Supreme Court, asserting that they were denied equal protection of the laws, deprived of property without due process, and denied the privileges and immunities due the citizens of the United States. The court noted that, in and of themselves, the restrictions could not be considered to be in violation of any of those rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment because there was no action on the part of the state. However, the enforcement of the restrictive covenants by the state courts created the state action necessary to bring this issue squarely under the purview of the Fourteenth Amendment. Thus, because the state court judicially enforced the agreements, the states had effectively denied the Shelleys equal protection of the laws. The Court found it unnecessary to address the other Fourteenth Amendment issues.

The home at the center of the controversy, the Shelley House, was designated as a National Historic Landmark on December 14, 1990 because of its historic and social significance in the civil rights movement. It remains as a symbol of the fight to achieve equality and stands as a reminder that all persons, without restriction by the states or the federal government, have the right to own property. Although the house at 4600 Labadie Avenue in St. Louis is a National Historic Landmark, it is currently privately owned and not open to the public.

Latest & Greatest - Sexual Orientation and the Law

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   Edited by Karen Moulding in conjunction with National Lawyers Guild Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Rights Committee  Published by Thomson Reuters (2015-2016)  KF 4754.5 .S49 2012

Edited by Karen Moulding in conjunction with National Lawyers Guild Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Rights Committee

Published by Thomson Reuters (2015-2016)

KF 4754.5 .S49 2012

As the country is still reeling from the recent tragedy in Orlando and as the issue of LGBT equality and civil rights continues to rise to the forefront of the nation’s conscience, the Harris County Law Library would like to draw attention to a title of importance for this subject: Sexual Orientation and the Law. Though not new to our collection, Sexual Orientation and the Law attempts to capture all of the legal issues and the changes in the law that bear upon the LGBT community. The legalization of same-sex marriage has had a profound effect on many areas of the law, but none more remarkable than those affecting the family. Courts have been looking differently at issues involving custody, parentage, and adoption in addition to matters involving unmarried partners, and this two-volume set takes a comprehensive look at each aspect of this developing area of law.

Of concern as well is the sexual orientation issue as it arises in the course of employment and military service. The authors address discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace, strategies for obtaining domestic partnership benefits, and military discharge reviews. The authors also devote an entire chapter to the representation of transgender clients in matters such as changing identifying documents, handling employment discrimination claims, and getting protection from violence while imprisoned. They also discuss the special issues that arise when representing clients with HIV/AIDS, including health, financial, and estate planning and obtaining public benefits and insurance coverage.

Sexual Orientation and the Law is rich with practical information to assist you in understanding the unique issues faced by members of the LGBT community and how to handle them when your next client comes through your door.