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March 27, 2024 2 minutes to read ∙ 300 words

A Page Out of Legal History: 1948

Jeffrey Allen

We have added a new feature to GPSolo eReport: A Page Out of Legal History. This article kicks off the series. Future issues will contain pieces by other authors writing about a significant legal event that occurred either the year of their birth or the year of their graduation from law school.

My birth year, 1948, had many significant legal events. To me, the Supreme Court decision in Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1 (1948), stands out from the crowd. In a unanimous decision authored by Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson, the Court addressed racial discrimination in housing. The case focused on the constitutionality of racially restrictive covenants—contractual agreements prohibiting the sale of property to individuals of certain racial or ethnic backgrounds.

Even though restrictive covenants arose in contracts between individuals or between individuals and business entities, the Court held that enforcement of the covenants violated the 14th Amendment, with the requisite state action coming from the fact that enforcement of the covenants required utilization of the court system. Bottom line: The covenants themselves do not violate the 14th Amendment, but seeking to enforce them in the courts does. By ruling that state courts could not enforce such agreements, the Court dealt a blow to the systemic racism entrenched in housing practices across the United States. The decision marked a significant step toward dismantling segregationist policies and fostering greater equality under the law. Although not as well-known as some of the later civil rights cases, Shelley provides a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement.

The case helped pave the way for subsequent civil rights legislation, including the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which prohibited housing discrimination based on race, color, religion, or national origin. Shelley’s legacy continues to resonate in contemporary discussions on housing equity and social justice. It serves as a reminder of the ongoing struggle to combat discrimination and ensure equal access to housing for all individuals, regardless of race or ethnicity.

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Jeffrey Allen

Oakland, CA

Jeffrey Allen is the principal in the Graves & Allen law firm in Oakland, California, where he has practiced since 1973. He is active in the American Bar Association (particularly in the GPSolo and Senior Lawyers Divisions), the California State Bar Association, and the Alameda County Bar Association. He is Editor-in-Chief Emeritus and Senior Technology Editor of GPSolo magazine and the GPSolo eReport and continues to serve as a member of both magazines’ Editorial Boards. He also serves as an editor and the technology columnist for Experience magazine. A frequent speaker on technology topics, he is a former member of the ABA Standing Committee on Information Technology and the Board of Editors of the ABA Journal. He coauthored (with Ashley Hallene) Technology Solutions for Today’s Lawyer (2013) and iPad for Lawyers: The Tools You Need at Your Fingertips (2013). In addition to being licensed as an attorney in California, he has been admitted as a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales. He may be reached at [email protected].

Published in GPSolo eReport, Volume 13, Number 8, March 2024 . © 2024 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association or the Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division.