387 U.S. 369 (1967), 483, Reitman v. Mulkey

Docket Nº:No. 483
Citation:387 U.S. 369, 87 S.Ct. 1627, 18 L.Ed.2d 830
Party Name:Reitman v. Mulkey
Case Date:May 29, 1967
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 369

387 U.S. 369 (1967)

87 S.Ct. 1627, 18 L.Ed.2d 830

Reitman

v.

Mulkey

No. 483

United States Supreme Court

May 29, 1967

Argued March 221, 1967

CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF CALIFORNIA

Syllabus

The California Legislature, during the period 1959-1963, enacted several statutes regulating racial discrimination in housing. In 1964, pursuant to an initiative and referendum, Art. I, § 26, was added to the state constitution. It provided in part that neither the State nor any agency thereof

shall deny, limit or abridge, directly or indirectly, the right of any person, who is willing or desires to sell, lease or rent any part or all of his real property, to decline to sell, lease or rent such property to such person or persons as he, in his absolute discretion, chooses.

The California Supreme Court held that Art. I, § 26, was designed to overturn state laws that bore on the right of private persons to discriminate, that it invalidly involved the State in racial discrimination in the housing market, and that it changed the situation from one in which discriminatory practices were restricted to one where they are "encouraged," within the meaning of this Court's decisions. The court concluded that Art. I, § 26, unconstitutionally involves the State in racial discrimination, and is therefore invalid under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Held: The California Supreme Court believes that Art. I, § 26, which does not merely repeal existing law forbidding private racial discrimination, but authorizes racial discrimination in the housing market and establishes the right to discriminate as a basic state policy, will significantly encourage and involve the State in private discriminations. No persuasive considerations indicating that the judgments herein should be overturned have been presented, and they are affirmed. Pp. 373-381.

64 Cal.2d 529, 877, 413 P.2d 825, 847, affirmed.

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WHITE, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question here is whether Art. I, § 26, of the California Constitution denies "to any person . . . the equal protection of the laws" within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.1 Section 26 of Art. I, an initiated measure submitted

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to the people as Proposition 14 in a statewide ballot in 1964, provides in part as follows:

Neither the State nor any subdivision or agency thereof shall deny, limit or abridge, directly or indirectly, the right of any person, who is willing or desires to sell, lease or rent any part or all of his real property, to decline to sell, lease or rent such property to such person or persons as he, in his absolute discretion, chooses.

The real property covered by § 26 is limited to residential property, and contains an exception for state-owned real estate.2

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The issue arose in two separate actions in the California courts, Mulkey v. Reitman and Prendergast v. Snyder. In Reitman, the Mulkeys, who are husband and wife and respondents here, sued under § 51 and § 52 of the California Civil Code3 alleging that petitioners had refused to rent them an apartment solely on account of their race. An injunction and damages were demanded. Petitioners moved for summary judgment on the ground that §§ 51 and 52, insofar as they were the basis for the Mulkeys' action, had been rendered null and void by the adoption of Proposition 14 after the filing of the complaint. The trial court granted the motion, and respondents took the case to the California Supreme Court.

In the Prendergast case, respondents, husband and wife, filed suit in December, 1964, seeking to enjoin eviction from their apartment; respondents alleged that the eviction was motivated by racial prejudice, and therefore would violate § 51 and § 52 of the Civil Code. Petitioner Snyder cross-complained for a judicial declaration that he was entitled to terminate the month-to-month tenancy even if his action was based on racial considerations. In denying petitioner's motion for summary

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judgment, the trial court found it unnecessary to consider the validity of Proposition 14, because it concluded that judicial enforcement of an eviction based en racial grounds would, in any event, violate the Equal Protection Clause of the United States [87 S.Ct. 1630] Constitution.4 The cross-complaint was dismissed with prejudice,5 and petitioner Snyder appealed to the California Supreme Court, which considered the case along with Mulkey v. Reitman. That court, in reversing the Reitman case, held that Art. I, § 26, was invalid as denying the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. 64 Cal.2d 529, 413 P.2d 825. For similar reasons, the court affirmed the judgment in the Prendergast case. 64 Cal.2d 877, 413 P.2d 847. We granted certiorari because the cases involve an important issue arising under the Fourteenth Amendment. 385 U.S. 967.

We affirm the judgments of the California Supreme Court. We first turn to the opinion of that court in Reitman, which quite properly undertook to examine the constitutionality of § 26 in terms of its "immediate objective" its "ultimate effect" and its "historical context and the conditions existing prior to its enactment." Judgments such as these we have frequently undertaken ourselves. Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356; McCabe v. Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe R. Co., 235 U.S. 151; Lombard v. Louisiana, 373 U.S. 267; Robinson v. Florida, 378 U.S. 153; Turner v. City of Memphis, 369 U.S. 350; Anderson v. Martin, 375 U.S. 399. But here, the California Supreme Court has addressed itself to these matters,

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and we should give careful consideration to its views, because they concern the purpose, scope, and operative effect of a provision of the California Constitution.

First, the court considered whether § 26 was concerned at all with private discriminations in residential housing. This involved a review of past efforts by the California Legislature to regulate such discriminations. The Unruh Act, Civ.Code § 51-52 on which respondents based their cases, was passed in 1959.6 The Hawkins Act, formerly Health & Safety Code §§ 35700-35741, followed and prohibited discriminations in publicly assisted housing. In 1961, the legislature enacted proscriptions against restrictive covenants. Finally, in 1963, came the Rumford Fair Housing Act, Health Safety Code §§ 35700-35744, superseding the Hawkins Act and prohibiting racial discriminations in the sale or rental of any private dwelling containing more than four units. That act was enforceable by the State Fair Employment Practice Commission.

It was against this background that Proposition 14 was enacted. Its immediate design and intent, the California court said, were "to overturn state laws that bore on the right of private sellers and lessors to discriminate," the Unruh and Rumford Acts, and "to forestall future state action that might circumscribe this right." This aim was successfully achieved: the adoption of Proposition 14 "generally nullifies both the Rumford and Unruh Acts as they apply to the housing market," and establishes

a purported constitutional right to privately discriminate on grounds which admittedly would be unavailable under the Fourteenth Amendment should state action be involved.

[87 S.Ct. 1631] Second, the court conceded that the State was permitted a neutral position with respect to private racial

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discriminations and that the State was not bound by the Federal Constitution to forbid them. But, because a significant state involvement in private discriminations could amount to unconstitutional state action, Burton v. Wilmington Parking Authority, 365 U.S. 715, the court deemed it necessary to determine whether Proposition 14 invalidly involved the State in racial discriminations in the housing market. Its conclusion was that it did.

To reach this result, the state court examined certain prior decisions in this Court in which discriminatory state action was identified. Based on these cases, Robinson v. Florida, 378 U.S. 153, 156; Anderson v. Martin, 375 U.S. 399; Barrows v. Jackson, 346 U.S. 249, 254; McCabe v. Atchison, Topeka Santa Fe R. Co., 235 U.S. 151, it concluded that a prohibited state involvement could be found "even where the state can be charged with only encouraging," rather than commanding discrimination. Also of particular interest to the court was MR. JUSTICE STEWART's concurrence in Burton v. Wilmington. Parking Authority, 365 U.S. 715, 726, where it was said that the Delaware courts had construed an existing Delaware statute as "authorizing" racial discrimination in restaurants, and that the statute was therefore invalid. To the California court "[t]he instant case presents an undeniably analogous situation" wherein the State had taken affirmative action designed to make private discriminations legally possible. Section 26 was said to have changed the situation from one in which discrimination was restricted "to one wherein it is encouraged, within the meaning of the cited decisions"; § 26 was legislative action "which authorized private discrimination" and made the State "at least a partner in the instant act of discrimination. . . ." The court could "conceive of no other purpose for an application of section 26 aside from authorizing the perpetration of a purported private discrimination. . . ." The judgment

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of the California court was that § 26 unconstitutionally involves the State in racial discriminations, and is therefore invalid under the Fourteenth Amendment.

There is no sound reason for rejecting this judgment. Petitioners contend that the California court has misconstrued the Fourteenth Amendment, since the repeal of any statute...

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