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Law School Case Brief

Loving v. Virginia - 388 U.S. 1, 87 S. Ct. 1817 (1967)

Rule:

Marriage is one of the "basic civil rights of man," fundamental to existence and survival. To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in Va. Code Ann. §§ 20-58, 20-59, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is to deprive all the state's citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. Under the United States Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the state. 

Facts:

 In June 1958, two residents of Virginia, Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving were married in the District of Columbia pursuant to its laws. Shortly after their marriage, the Lovings returned to Virginia and established their marital abode in Caroline County. In October 1958, a grand jury issued an indictment charging the Lovings with violating Virginia's ban on interracial marriages. 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. After their convictions, the Lovings took up residence in the District of Columbia. On November 6, 1963, they filed a motion in the Virginia state trial court to vacate the judgment and set aside the sentence on the ground that Va. Code Ann. §§ 20-58 and 20-59, the state anti-miscegenation statutes which they had violated, were repugnant to the Fourteenth Amendment. The District Court denied the motion to vacate the sentences. On appeal, the Supreme Court of Appeals upheld the constitutionality of the anti-miscegenation statutes and after modifying the sentence affirmed the convictions. 

Issue:

Was the Virginia state anti-miscegenation statutory scheme to prevent marriages between persons solely on the basis of racial classifications violative of the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Constitution?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

On appeal, the Supreme Court of the United States reversed the judgment. The Court held that the Virginia statutes violated both the Equal Protection and the Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court rejected the notion that the mere "equal application" of a statute containing racial classifications was enough to remove the classification from the U.S. Const. amend. XIV’s proscription of all invidious racial discrimination. The Court held there was no legitimate overriding purpose which justified the classification. The Court found that restricting the freedom to marry solely because of racial classifications violated the central meaning of the Equal Protection Clause and deprived appellants of liberty without due process of law in violation of the Due Process Clause of U.S. Const. amend. XIV.

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