Couple sue Ohio county recorders over racial covenants in deeds

by Walter Olson on April 6, 2013

In the 1948 case of Shelley v. Kraemer, the U.S. Supreme Court held that racially restrictive real estate covenants, once a common practice, were not enforceable in court. Since then old covenants of that sort in title deeds have been a dead letter, but court clerks continue to copy them over as part of the historical transcription of title language that occurs in many real estate transactions. Now a couple described anonymously as John and Jane Doe, represented by attorney Zachary Gottesman of Cincinnati, have been suing county recorders around the state of Ohio asking for “an injunction requiring recorders to ‘sequester’ the offensive documents or, for those documents that have to be published, to redact the racially-offensive portions. They also ask for their attorney fees to be paid, punitive damages and any other relief the court deems just.” A lawyer representing the county clerks says they are legally obligated to copy, transcribe or otherwise make available the deeds as they find them, and that the anonymous filing of the lawsuit is improper. “Defendants,” argues the brief on their behalf, “cannot be held liable … in the same way a library or museum cannot be held liable for hate speech for maintaining a display of offensive historical documents,” he wrote. Please, don’t give the plaintiffs ideas for more suits. [Zanesville Times Recorder]

{ 7 comments }

1 Scott 04.06.13 at 8:11 am

NICE! I’m going to sue the National Archive for the offensive language I saw in the original copy of the Constitution they have on display.

2 John Burgess 04.06.13 at 9:00 am

Okay, Scott… you can have the Archives. I’ll take every middle and secondary school. They have copies (word-for-word) in all of their libraries. Not that anyone (particularly administrators) actually reads, but it’s there. Think of the children!

Think of my exacting $10K from every one of them!

3 Jane 04.06.13 at 11:12 am

Some people came to my door asking me to sign a petition to rid our neighborhood of a similar covenant and I was like, uh, they’re not being enforced. How did you miss the drug dealer across the street from me, the illegal personal care home one door down, and the crack house next
to it. My house is now worth $0.

4 david7134 04.06.13 at 6:14 pm

Wait, I live in the South and was under the impression that we were the only people on earth that discriminated against anyone. Do you mean that northern states were segregated?

5 Jason Barney 04.06.13 at 8:36 pm

I do not know particular Ohio law, but wonder generally under a tort analysis–does the County owe a duty to these particular people?

6 Melvin H. 04.07.13 at 12:36 am

Or do these “anonymous clients” even have standing under Ohio or any laws?

7 rxc 04.07.13 at 7:29 am

They need to file this suit because the words hurt their feelings. The words are a form of bullying that must be expunged in order to further social cohesion. Except on those occasions when it is necessary to trot them out to remind us all to feel guilty about historical actions that none of us is responsible for doing.

/sarc

Collective guilt is such a useful concept.

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