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Corrigan v. Buckley


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271 U.S. 323 (1926), argued 8 Jan. 1926, decided 24 May 1926 by vote of 9 to 0; Sanford for the Court. This case involved a restrictive covenant formed by white property owners in the District of Columbia in 1921 to prevent the sale of property to black citizens. Subsequently a white owner made a contract to sell her property to a black person, provoking a suit to enforce the covenant and stop the sale. Federal courts in the District of Columbia upheld enforcement of the covenant. In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court in effect affirmed this outcome by dismissing the suit for lack of jurisdiction. Justice Edward T. Sanford disposed of the constitutional argument raised against the covenant by noting that the Fifth Amendment limited the federal government, not individuals; the Thirteenth Amendment, in matters other than personal liberty, did not protect the individual rights of blacks; and the Fourteenth Amendment referred to state action, not the conduct of private individuals. The Court observed that while the Civil Rights Act of 1866 conferred on all persons and citizens the legal capacity to make contracts and acquire property, it did not prohibit or invalidate contracts between private individuals concerning the control or disposition of their own property. Justice Sanford furthermore denied, without elaboration, that judicial enforcement of the restrictive covenant was tantamount to government action depriving persons of liberty and property without due process of law. Sanford's statement was regarded in the next two decades as having settled the question whether judicial enforcement of racial covenants was state action under the Fourteenth Amendment. The decision temporarily closed the door to racial integration in housing that had been pried open in Buchanan v. Warley (1917). In Shelley v. Kraemer (1948) the Court held such covenants valid between the parties to the agreement, but judicially unenforceable as a form of state action prohibited by the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Herman Belz

Subjects: Law.


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