Evans v. Abney

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396 U.S. 435 (1970), argued 12–13 Nov. 1969, decided 29 Jan. 1970, by vote of 6 to 2; Black for the Court, Douglas and Brennan in dissent, Marshall not participating. Evans is one of a series of Supreme Court decisions that have considered racially discriminatory land-use covenants and other, privately created, racial land-use limits. Evans dealt with a public park in Macon, Georgia, which was open only to white residents in accordance with restrictions placed on the park by the donor of the property in 1911. In Evans v. Newton (1966), the Court decided that the city could not operate this all-white park without violating the Equal Protection Clause. Upon remand, Georgia courts decided that, in light of the clearly expressed discriminatory intent of the donor, the only suitable way to carry out the donor's wish was to return the property to his heirs.

In Evans v. Abney the Court upheld this action even though the effect was to close the park to blacks. Georgia courts reached their decision by relying on racially neutral, well-settled principles for the interpretation of wills. In accord with these interpretive principles, the donor's intent was best carried out, not by eliminating the racial restrictions, but by ending the park. The effect of the action, the Court noted, was not racially discriminatory because both whites and blacks lost access to the park land.

In reaching this conclusion the Court distinguished the case from its landmark ruling, Shelley v. Kraemer (1948), in which the Court announced that a state court violated the Equal Protection Clause when it enforced a privately created racial land-use covenant.

Eric T. Freyfogle

Subjects: Law.

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