Shelley v. Kraemer
334 U.S. 1 (1948)

  • The Shelleys were a black family trying to buy a house in a neighborhood with a racist covenant that forbid sales to non-whites.
    • The covenant was a private contract between all the homeowners agreeing that no one would sell their house to a minority.
    • Shelly argued that this was a violation of the 14th Amendment.
  • Kraemer argued that it wasn’t a violation because it was a private contract and the 14th Amendment only bound the government (aka the State Action Doctrine), not private citizens.
  • The US Supreme Court found that since Kraemer was relying on the government (specifically the courts and police) to enforce the covenant, they were bound by 14th Amendment restrictions.
    • The US Supreme Court found that the only way that a covenant would not be bound by the 14th Amendment was if the covenant was completely voluntary and relied on no judicial enforcement whatsoever.
  • This case is a good example of the Entanglement Exception.
    • The Entanglement Exception says that if the government affirmatively authorizes, encourages, or facilitates private conduct, then that conduct is subject to constitutional guarantees as an exception to the State Action Doctrine.
  • This decision is considered controversial because technically it makes everything a State action. If any judicial enforcement by a court represents a State action, then ultimately all private action must comply with the Constitution because any aggrieved person will seek redress in court.
    • It’s a Catch-22. How can a judge rule that there is no governmental entanglement when the ruling itself constitutes government entanglement?