Property Rights Are Civil Rights


Writing at SCOTUSblog, George Mason University legal scholar David Bernstein has a superb essay explaining the importance of the Supreme Court's largely forgotten 1917 decision in Buchanan v. Warley:

Buchanan v. Warley is one of the most significant civil rights cases decided before the modern civil rights era.  Starting in 1910, many cities in the South, border states, and lower Midwest, responded to a wave of African-American in-migration from rural areas by passing laws mandating residential segregation in housing. More cities were ready to follow suit if the laws survived constitutional challenges.  Several southern state supreme courts upheld the laws against constitutional challenges.  In 1917, however, the Buchanan Court unanimously invalidated a Louisville residential segregation law as a deprivation of liberty and property without due process of law.

Although some scholars have portrayed Buchanan as only vindicating white people's right to alienate property, the opinion's text belies that understanding.  The right at issue, according to the Court, was "the civil right of a white man to dispose of his property if he saw fit to do so to a person of color and of a colored person to make such disposition to a white person." "Colored persons," Justice Day wrote for the Court, "are citizens of the United States and have the right to purchase property and enjoy and use the same without laws discriminating against them solely on account of color."

Read the whole article here. In 2007 I profiled the great libertarian lawyer Moorfield Storey, who served as the NAACP's first president and who argued and won Buchanan before the Court.

NEXT: The NRA Muscles into McDonald v. Chicago

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  1. Property Rights Are Civil Rights.

    Now if we could just repeal the 16th…

    1. In order for something to be repealed, must it not have been actually and lawfully enacted?

      1. Who cares? Many people ended up in jail for arguing what you imply, so let’s get that out of the way and concentrate on repealment.

      2. Please take that to Moynihan’s thread above so he can angst over your kook fringe theories.

  2. Is Sexual Harassment Just Bonding in Disguise?

    A couple of years ago, a female officer consulted me about what to do when she was assigned to a new unit and a calendar of female swimsuit models was posted on her desk. She was the only female assigned there. I knew most of the guys she was going to be working with and I knew they didn’t mean anything by the gesture other than to welcome her as one of the “guys.” She was really offended, though.

    Instead of taking my suggestion that she laugh it off, she took offense and made a complaint. This resulted in a big mess and ultimately her new squad never accepted her as one of them.

    Everyone does have a right to be offended by unwanted and unasked for attention, especially of a sexual nature. But I knew there was something deeper there than what was on the surface. It wasn’t until I read about a study done many years ago on dock workers in the UK and their employee theft that I began to understand what was really going on.

    In the study it was discovered that dock workers were stealing at work not because they needed what they were stealing but because they were establishing bonds of trust between each other. Yes, that is what you read: stealing to establish trust.


  3. But, but …. we have to trust the state with our property … clearly the only danger ever posed in life are evil corporate storm troopers, government always makes the right decision.

    durr hurr hurr

    1. And as Chony would say:

      “At least 33% of your property belongs to ‘Society’, because without us [sic) you would not have made your property.”

      1. Only 33%? I’m surprised Chad would be THAT generous.

        1. Well, he said at least. He’s quite a thief, that guy. Or at least, a promoter of thievery.

          1. Definitely a promotor. He would never have the balls to actually steal.

            1. Well, the definition of a Socialist is A Thief With No Character.

      2. God only demanded 10% for creating the entire universe. I think society overvalues itself.

  4. See, this doesn’t really count in the pantheon of civil rights cases because

    (a) It dealt with icky property rights.

    (b) It wasn’t decided within living memory of self-congratulatory baby boomers.

    (c) It wasn’t “for the children”, like those dreamy school segregation cases (which had the extra added bonus of being argued by a black fellow).

    Civil rights era trivia: Justice Powell’s law firm (where he was actually practicing at the time) represented the segregationist schools in Brown v. Board.

  5. Wait. Negroes can own property? Since fucking when?

    1. Don’t worry – it’s just the light-skinned ones who can control their Negro dialect

      1. When they want to

  6. “Ultimately, property rights and personal rights are the same thing. The one cannot be preserved if the other be violated.” – Calvin Coolidge

    1. I’m with Cal.

      1. Me too! Cal rocks!

  7. It counts how many times the word retard appears on a web site:


    Hit and ru, you ask? 98 times.


    1. To be fair those are all responses to Chony.

    2. Google’s at 124. Does it count ” retard ” as in physics? How about flame retard -ant?

  8. “if the other be violated.”

    I had no idea Coolidge was black!

    1. He was a well-spoken, light-skinned Negro.

      1. When he wanted to be

  9. if you arrive at the high-profile rights without reasoning from property rights, you’re probably not reasoning. Anyone care to take a stab at it?

    1. You derive your rights from the Bill of Rights, duh. The only property rights I see are in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th amendments.

      Anything not covered by those amendments is fair game.

      In the 3rd Amendment, “soldiers” can’t be quartered, but it says nothing about FBI or other agents. Besides, there is an exception for wartime, and we ARE in a war right now…..

      In the 4th Amendment, nothing shall be seized except with a warrant naming the stuff to be seized. So as long as a judge signs off on it, seizing stuff is fine! So shut your whining hole, Radley Balko.

      The 5th Amendment merely bans takings of private property for *public use* without compensation…so NYC grabbing Atlantic Yards for Ratner is A-OK, because it’s not a “public use”, and the homeowners get nothing.

      1. Re: Libtard,

        You derive your rights from the Bill of Rights, duh.

        Duh, circular thinking . . . duh . . .

        Anything not covered by those amendments is fair game.

        Everything was covered with the 9th and 10th Amendmnent . . . duh . . .

        1. Old El Paso, your sarc-o-meter needs it’s 10,000 outrage scheduled maintenance.

        2. I’m pretty sure libtard’s response was meant to be sarcastic, no?

          1. Hey, my sarcasm meter is not THAT nuanced. I don’t know anymore!

            1. Dude, his name was libtard. That was the 1st clue.

      2. Libtard – that was MNG/Choney-worthy

        * bows down in reverent awe *

      3. Retard (had to add to the counter), you DO NOT derive your rights from the Bill of Rights. First of all, the language of the BOR is termed as negative rights, i.e. limiting the rights of government – NOT grant of rights. Second, try reading some of the writings of the drafters, they specifically and clearly said that rights were inherent and not granted by the Constitution (“we hold these truths to be self-evident”). Finally, if we follow the logic of your stupid ass argument, then if the BOR had not been passed, we would have NO rights. Right?

        1. Ok. Got it. Sarcasm detector was low on batteries.

  10. Yet all states have laws saying you can’t discriminate on the basis of race. If I’m black and don’t want to sell or rent to an asian it’s against the law.

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