334 U.S. 24 (1948), 290, Hurd v. Hodge

Docket Nº:No. 290
Citation:334 U.S. 24, 68 S.Ct. 847, 92 L.Ed. 1187
Party Name:Hurd v. Hodge
Case Date:May 03, 1948
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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334 U.S. 24 (1948)

68 S.Ct. 847, 92 L.Ed. 1187

Hurd

v.

Hodge

No. 290

United States Supreme Court

May 3, 1948

Argued January 15-16, 1948

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

Syllabus

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 R.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

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decreeing enforcement of a covenant incorporated in conveyances of land and forbidding its rental, lease, sale, transfer, or conveyance to any Negro. 82 U.S.App.D.C. 180, 162 F.2d 233. This Court granted certiorari. 332 U.S. 789. Reversed, p. 36.

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VINSON, J., lead opinion

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE VINSON delivered the opinion of the Court.

These are companion cases to Shelley v. Kraemer and McGhee v. Sipes, ante, p. 1, and come to this Court on certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

In 1906, twenty of thirty-one lots in the 100 block of Bryant Street, Northwest, in the City of Washington, were sold subject to the following covenant:

. . . that said lot shall never be rented, leased, sold, transferred or conveyed unto any Negro or colored person, under a penalty of Two Thousand Dollars ($2,000), which shall be a lien against said property.

The covenant imposes no time limitation on the restriction.

Prior to the sales which gave rise to these cases, the twenty lots which are subject to the covenants were at all times owned and occupied by white persons, except for a brief period when three of the houses were occupied by Negroes who were eventually induced to move without

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legal action. The remaining eleven lots in the same block,1 however, are not subject to a restrictive agreement, and, as found by the District Court, were occupied by Negroes for the twenty years prior to the institution of this litigation.

These cases involve seven of the twenty lots which are subject to the terms of the restrictive covenants. In No. 290, petitioners Hurd, found by the trial court to be Negroes,2 purchased one of the restricted properties from the white owners. In No. 291, petitioner Urciolo, a white real estate dealer, sold and conveyed three of the restricted properties to the Negro petitioners Rowe, Savage, and Stewart. Petitioner Urciolo also owns three other lots in the block subject to the covenants. In both cases, the Negro petitioners are presently occupying as homes the respective properties which have been conveyed to them.

Suits were instituted in the District Court by respondents, who own other property in the block subject to the terms of the covenants, praying for injunctive relief to enforce the terms of the restrictive agreement. The cases were consolidated for trial, and, after a hearing, the court entered a judgment declaring null and void the deeds of the Negro petitioners; enjoining petitioner Urciolo and one Ryan, the white property owners who had sold the houses to the Negro petitioners, from leasing, selling, or conveying the properties to any Negro or colored person; enjoining the Negro petitioners from leasing or conveying the properties, and directing those petitioners "to remove themselves and all of their personal belongings" from the premises within sixty days.

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The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, with one justice dissenting, affirmed the judgment of the District Court.3 The majority of the court was of the opinion that the action of the District Court was consistent with earlier decisions of the Court of Appeals, and that those decisions should be held determinative in these cases.

Petitioners have attacked the judicial enforcement of the restrictive covenants in these case on a wide variety of grounds. Primary reliance, however, is placed on the contention that such governmental action on the part of the courts of the District of Columbia is forbidden by the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment of the Federal Constitution.4

[68 S.Ct. 850] Whether judicial enforcement of racial restrictive agreements by the federal courts of the District of Columbia violates the Fifth Amendment has never been adjudicated by this Court. In Corrigan v. Buckley, 271 U.S. 323, an appeal was taken to this Court from a judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia which had affirmed an order of the lower court granting enforcement to a restrictive covenant. But as was pointed out in our opinion in Shelley v. Kraemer, supra, the only constitutional issue which had been raised in the lower courts in the Corrigan case, and consequently the only constitutional question before this Court on appeal, related to the validity of the private agreements as such. Nothing in the opinion

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of this Court in that case therefore may properly be regarded as an adjudication of the issue presented by petitioners in this case, which concerns not the validity of the restrictive agreements standing alone, but the validity of court enforcement of the restrictive covenants under the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment.5 See Shelley v. Kraemer, supra, at p. 8.

This Court has declared invalid municipal ordinances restricting occupancy in designated areas to persons of specified race and color as denying rights of white sellers and Negro purchasers of property, guaranteed by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Buchanan v. Warley, 245 U.S. 60; Harmon v. Tyler, 273 U.S. 668; Richmond v. Deans, 281 U.S. 704. Petitioners urge that judicial enforcement of the restrictive covenants by courts of the District of Columbia should likewise be held to deny rights of

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white sellers and Negro purchasers of property, guaranteed by the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment. Petitioners point out that this Court, in Hirabayashi v. United States, 320 U.S. 81, 100, reached its decision in a case in which issues under the Fifth Amendment were presented, on the assumption that "racial discriminations are in most circumstances irrelevant, and therefore prohibited. . . ." And see Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214, 216.

Upon full consideration, however, we have found it unnecessary to resolve the constitutional issue which petitioners advance, for we have concluded that judicial enforcement of restrictive covenants by the courts of the District of Columbia is improper for other reasons hereinafter stated.6

[68 S.Ct. 851] Section 1978 of the Revised Statutes, derived from § 1 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866,7 provides:

All citizens of the United States shall have the same right, in every State and Territory, as is enjoyed

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by white citizens thereof to inherit, purchase, lease, sell hold, and convey real and personal property.8

All the petitioners in these cases, as found by the District Court, are citizens of the United States. We have no doubt that, for the purposes of this section, the District of Columbia is included within the phrase "every State and Territory."9 Nor can there be doubt of the constitutional power of Congress to enact such legislation with reference to the District of Columbia.10

We may start with the proposition that the statute does not invalidate private restrictive agreements so long as the purposes of those agreements are achieved by the parties through voluntary adherence to the terms. The action toward which the provisions of the statute under consideration is directed is governmental action. Such was the holding of Corrigan v. Buckley, supra.

In considering whether judicial enforcement of restrictive covenants is the kind of governmental action which

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the first section of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 was intended to prohibit, reference must be made to the scope and purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment, for that statute and the Amendment were closely related both in inception and in the objectives which Congress sought to achieve.

Both the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the joint resolution which was later adopted as the Fourteenth...

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