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Loving v. Virginia 388 U.S. 1 (1967)

LOVING v. VIRGINIA 388 U.S. 1 (1967)

For more than a decade following its decision in brown v. board of education (1954) the Supreme Court avoided direct confrontation with the constitutionality of miscegenation laws. In Loving, the Court faced the issue squarely and held invalid a Virginia law forbidding any interracial marriage including a white partner. The decision is a major precedent in the area of racial discrimination as well as the foundation of the modern "freedom to marry." (See marriage and the constitution.)

A black woman and a white man, Virginia residents, went to the district of columbia to be married, and returned to live in Virginia. They were convicted of violating the Racial Integrity Act and given one-year prison sentences, suspended on condition that they leave Virginia. The Virginia appellate courts modified the sentences but upheld the constitutionality of the law. The Supreme Court unanimously reversed; Chief Justice earl warren wrote for the Court.

Citing the suspect classification language of Korematsu v. United States (1944) (see japanese american cases), Warren said that a "heavy burden of justification" must be carried by a state seeking to sustain any racial classification. The fact that the law punished both the white and black partners to a marriage did not relieve the state of that burden. The law's announced goal of "racial integrity" was promoted only selectively. A white was prohibited from marrying any nonwhite except the descendants of Pocahantas; a black and an Asian, for example, could lawfully marry. The law's obvious goal was the maintenance of white supremacy; it had no legitimate purpose independent of racial discrimination and thus violated the equal protection clause. pace v. alabama (1883) was assumed to be overruled.

The Court's opinion also rested on an alternative ground: the statute violated substantive due process, by interfering with "the freedom to marry." Quoting from the sterilization case, skinner v. oklahoma (1942), Chief Justice Warren called marriage "one of the 'basic civil rights of man,' fundamental to our very existence and survival." (See zablocki v. redhail; freedom of intimate association.)

justice potter stewart, concurring, merely repeated his earlier statement in McLaughlin v. Florida (1964) that a state could never make an act's criminality depend on the race of the actor.

Kenneth L. Karst
(1986)

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