Constitutional Law-State Action: Significant Involvement in Ostensibly Private Discriminations-Mulkey v. Reitman

From 1959 through 1963, the California legislature enacted a series of statutes which prohibited racial discrimination in the sale or rental of housing. Most important among these were the Unruh Civil Rights Act, which proscribed racial discrimination by “business establishments of every kind,” and the Rumford Fair Housing Act, which prohibited such conduct by anyone in the sale or rental of residential housing containing more than four units. Adverse public reaction to these statutes resulted in an amendment to the California constitution15 by means of an initiative measure in the general election of 1964. This amendment, popularly known as Proposition 14, effectively nullified the Unruh and Rumford Acts to the extent that they applied to housing since it prohibited any state interference with an individual’s exercise of “his absolute discretion” in the sale or rental of his real property. The constitutionality of the amendment was tested in the principal case when the defendant, contending that his conduct was justified under the amendment, refused to rent a vacant apartment to the plaintiffs, a Negro couple, solely because of their race. The trial court sustained the defendant’s argument and granted a motion for summary judgment. On appeal to the California Supreme Court, held, reversed, two justices dissenting. The initiative measure constituted state action which denied the plaintiffs the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the fourteenth amendment to the federal constitution.