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12AD.3.10 U.S. Reports: Reitman v. Mulkey, 387 U.S. 369 (1967)

Proposition 14, when voted into California law, became a part of the state constitution (Art. I, § 26). After state courts ruled that the amendment was against the law, advocates for the California Real Estate Association appealed to the United States Supreme Court. This document describes the ruling made by the US Supreme court that Art. I, § 26 of the California Constitution was invalid on the grounds that it violated the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution.
Library of Congress

White, Byron Raymond, and Supreme Court Of The United States. U.S. Reports: Reitman v. Mulkey, 387 U.S. 369. 1966. Periodical.

In 1967, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments about Proposition 14 and the California Supreme Court’s decision to overturn it. Two months later, the justices issued a ruling on the case, known as Reitman v. Mulkey. In a 5 – 4 decision the US Supreme Court ruled that the state court in California acted correctly by striking down the law created by Proposition 14 on the grounds that it denied citizens equal protection under the law. The court further argued that Proposition 14 authorized racial discrimination, and indeed violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The Supreme Court’s ruling on Reitman v. Mulkey paved the way for the 1968 Civil Rights Act, which codified into federal law many of the legal measures that disrupted discriminatory behaviors.

Based on the excerpt from this ruling, which principle do you believe the United States Supreme Court considers more important: the need to protect the rights of those in the minority or the need to honor the decisions made by the majority of citizens? How do you think this ruling worked to protect minority populations from the rules and laws created by the majority of Americans? What might have been a consequence for those with minority opinions had the court decided to rule the other way?

This source can help students understand the significance of the United States Supreme Court’s ruling on Reitman v. Mulkey. In order to follow the court’s logic and the arguments presented in the case, students may need to first reread the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution. In particular, ask them to pay close attention to how housing discrimination might “abridge the privileges” of American citizens, or deprive them of “life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Teachers may also want to examine with their students the way that the rule of the majority can be disregarded if the “immediate objective” and “ultimate effect” of that will abridges the privilege and liberty described in the Fourteenth Amendment. This ruling established housing and home ownership patterns and had long-term implications for national policy. Ask your students to consider this case as an important turning point when considering the question, What are the dangers of majority rule?

No. 483. Argued March 20-21, 1967.-Decided May 29, 1967.
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.