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In a landmark decision, the United States Supreme Court ruled that racially restrictive covenants were unenforceable by law. The Shelley v Kraemer, 1948, an African-American family, purchased a home whose title included a restrictive covenant designed to legally preserve racially segregated housing patterns. The Supreme Court determined that state-enforcement of racially restrictive covenants violated the Equal Protection Clause of the fourteenth amendment.
In this second landmark case, the United States Supreme Court went far beyond the decision in Shelley v Kraemer which had limited only the state’s enforcement of restrictive covenants. In Jones v Mayer, the Supreme Court determined that the Mayer Company, developers of a private subdivision in St. Louis could not deny the Jones family the opportunity to purchase a home based solely on Mr. Jone’s race. Justice Stevens decision for the Supreme Court held that the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the Thirteenth Amendment include “the freedom to buy whatever a white man can buy, the right to live wherever a white man can live. If Congress cannot say that being a free man means at least this much, then the Thirteenth Amendment made a promise the Nation cannot keep.“
This case, decided by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis, involved a zoning ordinance which prevented the construction of a federally subsidized, integrated housing development in an all white community. The City of Black Jack’s zoning commission had voted unanimously in favor of a zoning ordinance which prohibited development of multi-family dwellings, citing the potential burden on Black Jack’s roads, schools and single-family home values as explanations for the ordinance. However, “. . . there was some evidence that some of the zoning commissioners did take race into consideration when voting for the zoning ordinance.”
The Eighth Circuit Court ruled that although Black Jack’s ordinance did not openly express a discriminatory intent, it nevertheless had a “discriminatory effect” — the effect of the ordinance would have a disparate and therefore discriminatory impact on minority families. Therefore, the city’s ordinance was found invalid and Black Jack was ordered to allow the development of low-cost housing.