RICHARD PERRY LOVING et ux., Appellants,
388 US 1, 18 L ed 2d 1010, 87 S Ct 1817
Argued April 10, 1967. Decided June 12, 1967.
Excerpts from the abridged Supreme Court decision. Read more about it at: http://www.ameasite.org/loving.asp
The case concerned the validity of the Virginia antimiscegenation statutes, the central features
of which are the absolute prohibition of a "white person
" marrying any person other than a "white person"
A husband, "a white person", and his wife
, a "colored
person," within the meanings given those terms by a Virginia statute
, both residents
of Virginia, were married
in the District of Columbia
pursuant to its laws, and shortly thereafter returned to Virginia, where, upon their plea
, they were sentenced, in a Virginia state court, to one year in jail for violating Virginia's ban on interracial marriages
. Their motion to vacate the sentences on the ground of the unconstitutionality
of these statutes was denied by the trial court. The Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals affirmed. (206 Va 924, 147 SE2d 78)
On appeal, the Supreme Court of the United States reversed the conviction. In an opinion by WARREN, Ch.J., expressing the view of eight members
of the court, it was held that the Virginia statutes violated both the equal protection
and the due process
clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment
STEWART, J., concurred in the judgment on the ground that a state law making the criminality of an act depend upon the race of the actor is invalid.
On January 6, 1959, the Lovings pleaded guilty to the charge and were sentenced to one year in jail
; however, the trial judge suspended the sentence for a period of 25 years on the condition that the Lovings leave the State and not return to Virginia together for 25 years.
He stated in an opinion that:
"Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix."
After The Lovings' Conviction
After their convictions, the Lovings took up residence in the District of Columbia. On November 6, 1963, they filed a motion in the state trial court
to vacate the judgment and set aside the sentence on the ground that the statutes which they had violated were repugnant
to the Fourteenth Amendment. The motion not having been decided by October 28, 1964, the Lovings instituted a class action in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia requesting that a three-judge court be convened to declare the Virginia antimiscegenation statutes unconstitutional
and to enjoin state officials from enforcing their convictions. On January 22, 1965, the state trial judge denied the motion to vacate the sentences, and the Lovings perfected an appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia. On February 11, 1965, the three-judge District Court continued the case to allow the Lovings to present their constitutional claims to the highest state court.
What Statutes Were Used To Convict Them
The two statutes under which appellants were convicted and sentenced are part of a comprehensive statutory scheme aimed at prohibiting and punishing interracial marriages. The Lovings were convicted of violating Section 20-58 of the Virginia Code:
"Leaving State to evade law.---If any white person and colored person shall go out of this State, for the purpose of being married, and with the intention of returning, and be married out of it, and afterwards return and reside in it, cohabiting as man and wife, they shall be punished as provided in Section 20-59, and the marriage shall be governed by the same law as if it had been solemnized in this State. The fact of their cohabitation here as man and wife shall be evidence of their marriage."
Section 20-59, which defines the penalty for miscegenation, provides:
"Punishment for marriage.---If any white person intermarry with a colored person, or any colored person intermarry with a white person, he shall be guilty of a felony and shall be punished by confinement in the penitentiary for not less than one nor more than five years."
What Chief Justice Warren said
The clear and central purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment was to eliminate
sources of invidious racial discrimination in the States. There can be no question but that Virginia's miscegenation statutes rest solely upon distinctions drawn according to race. The statutes proscribe generally accepted conduct if engaged in by members of different races. At the very least, the Equal Protection Clause demands that racial classifications
, especially suspect in criminal statutes, be subjected to the "most rigid scrutiny", and, if they are ever to be upheld, they must be shown to be necessary to the accomplishment of some permissible state objective, independent of the racial discrimination
which was the object
of the Fourteenth Amendment to eliminate. Indeed, two members of this Court have already stated that they "cannot conceive of a valid legislative purpose...which makes the color of a person's skin the test of whether his conduct is a criminal
These statutes also deprive the Lovings of liberty
without due process of law in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness
by free men.
is one of the "basic civil rights of man
," fundamental to our very existence and survival. To deny
this fundamental freedom
on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment
, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens
without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.