October 20, 2010

Remembering the late Supreme Court Justice Stanley Mosk

A few days ago, the Daily Journal [subscription required] published a great article by Court of Appeal Justice Richard Mosk about his dad, the late Supreme Court Justice Stanley Mosk, who served 37 years on the Court, longer than any other justice. The article focuses on proceedings before the Los Angeles Board of Education to honor the late Supreme Court justice by naming a new elementary school after him. One of the speakers before the Board was Arthur Drye, an African American. He related a personal story about the late Justice Mosk that occurred back in 1947, when Drye was a boy. Drye’s parents had bought their “‘dream house'” in Los Angeles after his father, Frank, a wounded veteran, was discharged from the military. Their white neighbors sued to enforce a racially restrictive housing covenant.

The case came before youthful 35 year-old Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Stanley Mosk a year before the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the enforcement of racially restrictive housing covenants as unconstitutional in Shelley v. Kraemer (1948) 334 U.S. 1. At the time, these covenants were still enforceable in California. (Stone v. Jones (1944) 66 Cal.App.2d 264, 268 [“Such contracts relating to race restrictions have been upheld uniformly”].) Nonetheless, exhibiting moral backbone and a firm belief in the principles espoused in the federal constitution, young Judge Mosk sustained the African-American defendants’ demurrer without leave to amend. In so ruling, he wrote, in part:

“‘There is no allegation, and no suggestion, that any of these defendants would not be law-abiding neighbors and citizens of the community. The only objection to them is their color and race. [¶] We read columns in the press each day about un-American activities. This court feels there is no more reprehensible un-American activity than to attempt to deprive persons of their own homes on a ‘master race’ theory. [¶] Our nation just fought against the Nazi race superiority doctrines. One of these defendants was in that war and is a Purple Heart veteran. This court would indeed be callous to his constitutional rights if it were now to permit him to be ousted from his own home by using ‘race’ as the measure of his worth as a citizen and a neighbor. [¶] The alleged cause of action here is thus inconsistent with the guarantees of the 14th [A]mendment to the [C]onstitution.’”

Needless to say, the Los Angeles Board of Education voted to name the new school in Justice Mosk’s honor. This is only the latest accolade to be accorded the late justice. Appropriately, another namesake is the main civil courthouse for Los Angeles County.

Leave a Reply