The pioneering Bernals of Fullerton
The pioneering Bernals of Fullerton
Courtesy of the Bernal familia

Cal State Fullerton Grad Student Grad Finds Missing Link Between Alex Bernal Housing Covenant Case and the Supreme Court

It was a pleasure earlier this summer to report on the story of Alex Bernal, the longtime Fullerton resident who successfully fought off a lawsuit filed by racist white neighbors in 1943 that wanted him out of their neighborhood solely because he was Mexican. My sole frustration with the article was that I couldn't establish a direct link between the Orange County Superior Court case (Doss v. Bernal) and any of the more-famous housing-covenant cases that followed it, and that I couldn't find any proof that legendary civil rights attorney Loren Miller had any knowledge of the case.

Thank, God, then for the ever-curious mind of Luis F. Fernandez.

The Cal State Fullerton alum received a master's degree this summer in history but came across the Bernal case late in his academic career. He is still researching the case while planning to submit an academic paper on the subject in the near future. In the course of his digging recently, Fernandez found the smoking gun: an amici curiae brief filed for a Supreme Court housing covenant case that cites

Doss v. Bernal

as legal precedent.

The case, Sipes v. McGhee, was a companion case to Shelley v. Kraemer, the 1948 Supreme Court decision that declared housing covenants unconstitutional. In the amici curiae brief, attorneys Isaac Pacht (a former Los Angeles Superior Court judge), Irving Hill, and Clore Warne of Beverly Hills cited Doss v. Bernal as the earliest court case to strike down housing covenants. Arguing Sipes v. McGhee for the plaintiffs were none other than Miller and future Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall. The duo argued this case just a year after filing their own amicus curae on behalf of the NAACP for the federal appeal of Mendez, et al v. Westminster, et al., which of course outlawed Mexican-only schools in four Orange County school districts.

Fernandez is still digging through archives, and tells the Weekly there will be a public presentation on the Bernal case involving the Bernals and himself soon. Details to the meanwhile, great job!


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