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Law School Case Brief

Reitman v. Mulkey - 387 U.S. 369, 87 S. Ct. 1627 (1967)

Rule:

A prohibited state involvement in private discrimination may be found even where the state can be charged with only encouraging, rather than commanding, discrimination.

Facts:

In separate actions based on state antidiscrimination statutes, two couples sued apartment owners for racial discrimination, in one case for refusal to rent an apartment and in the other case for eviction from their apartment. The Superior Court, Orange County, California, entered summary judgment against the plaintiffs in the first case on the ground that the antidiscrimination statute had been rendered null and void by a state constitutional provision forbidding the state from denying any person's right to decline to sell or rent his residential real property to such persons as he in his absolute discretion chooses. The Superior Court, Los Angeles County, denied the apartment owner's motion for summary judgment in the second case and dismissed his cross complaint, pretermitting the question of the constitutional provision's effect on the antidiscrimination statute on the ground that judicial enforcement of an eviction based on racial grounds would violate the equal protection clause. The Supreme Court of California reversed the first judgment and affirmed the second on the ground that the state constitutional provision violated the equal protection clause. The apartment owners sought certiorari review in the United States Supreme Court.

Issue:

Did the state constitutional provision in question violate the equal protection clause of the United States Constitution?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The Court concluded that Cal. Const. Art. I, § 26 involved the State in racial discrimination and was, therefore, unconstitutionally invalid under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. According to the Court, although the state was permitted a neutral position regarding private racial discrimination and was not required to forbid such discrimination, art. I, § 26 constituted prohibited state involvement in private discrimination, as it represented affirmative state action designed to authorize and make legally possible private discrimination.

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