Case: Loving v. Commonwealth of Virginia

59-04138 | Virginia state trial court

Filed Date: 1959

Closed Date: 1967

Clearinghouse coding complete

Case Summary

In this landmark civil rights case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that state statutes banning interracial marriage violated the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In June 1958, two Virginia residents, Mildred Jeter, a Black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, married in Washington, D.C., pursuant to its laws. In October 1958, upon returning to Virginia, a grand jury issued an indictment charging the Lovings with violating Virginia a…

In this landmark civil rights case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that state statutes banning interracial marriage violated the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In June 1958, two Virginia residents, Mildred Jeter, a Black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, married in Washington, D.C., pursuant to its laws. In October 1958, upon returning to Virginia, a grand jury issued an indictment charging the Lovings with violating Virginia anti-miscegenation statutes that banned interracial marriages between white persons and persons of color. Specifically, the law stipulated that “[i]f any white person intermarry with a [person of color], or any [person of color] 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.” Va. Code Ann. § 20-59 (1950). On January 6, 1959, the Lovings pleaded guilty to the charge and received a one-year jail sentence. This sentence was later suspended on the condition that the Lovings leave Virginia and not return for 25 years.

On November 6, 1963, the Lovings, with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), filed a motion on behalf of the Lovings in the Circuit Court of Caroline County in Virginia to vacate the judgment and set aside the sentence on the ground that Virginia’s anti-miscegenation statutes violated the Fourteenth Amendment. After a year had passed without the court ruling on the motion, the Lovings filed a class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The Lovings requested that the Virginia anti-miscegenation statutes be declared unconstitutional and that state officials be enjoined from enforcing their convictions. On January 22, 1965, the Circuit Court of Caroline County denied the motion to vacate.

The Lovings appealed to the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia. On February 11, 1965, the U.S. District Court continued the case. On March 7, 1966, the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia reversed their sentences but affirmed their convictions. 206 Va. 924. On May 31, 1966, the Lovings appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which granted certiorari approximately six months later. Organizations including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) filed amicus briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the Lovings.

Virginia argued that, because its anti-miscegenation statutes punished white and Black persons in an interracial marriage equally, the statutes did not discriminate on the basis of race. Virginia also argued that, if the Equal Protection Clause did not outlaw the anti-miscegenation statutes, the constitutional question thus becomes whether there was any rational basis for the state to treat interracial marriages differently from other marriages. On this point, Virginia argued that the Court should defer to the Virginia legislature in adopting its policy of discouraging interracial marriages. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected both of these contentions.

On June 12, 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Virginia statutory scheme that prevented marriages between persons solely on the basis of race violated the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court held that marriage is a basic civil right, and to deny this freedom on the basis of race directly subverts the principle of equality underlying the Fourteenth Amendment and deprives all of the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Court also held that there was no legitimate purpose that justified the ban on interracial marriage, and that the freedom to marry a person of another race was an individual decision that cannot be infringed upon by the State.

Summary Authors

Saba Khan (1/5/2023)

People


Judge(s)

Stewart, Potter (District of Columbia)

Warren, Earl (District of Columbia)

Expert/Monitor/Master/Other

Doar, John (District of Columbia)

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Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

Opinion

Virginia state supreme court

March 7, 1966

March 7, 1966

Order/Opinion

147 S.E.2d 147

00395

[Untitled]

Supreme Court of the United States

June 12, 1967

June 12, 1967

Order/Opinion

87 S.Ct. 87

00395

Opinion of the Court

Loving v. Virginia

Supreme Court of the United States

June 12, 1967

June 12, 1967

Order/Opinion

388 U.S. 388

00395

[Untitled]

Supreme Court of the United States

June 12, 1967

June 12, 1967

Order/Opinion

87 S.Ct. 87

Docket

Last updated April 6, 2024, 3:17 a.m.

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

Case Details

State / Territory: Virginia

Case Type(s):

Public Benefits/Government Services

Special Collection(s):

Civil Rights Division Archival Collection

Key Dates

Filing Date: 1959

Closing Date: 1967

Case Ongoing: No

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

An interracial couple who successfully challenged Virginia's anti-miscegenation statutes as unconstitutional.

Plaintiff Type(s):

Private Plaintiff

Attorney Organizations:

ACLU National (all projects)

Public Interest Lawyer: Yes

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: Yes

Class Action Outcome: Mooted before ruling

Defendants

Commonwealth of Virginia, State

Defendant Type(s):

Jurisdiction-wide

Case Details

Causes of Action:

42 U.S.C. § 1981

Constitutional Clause(s):

Due Process

Due Process: Substantive Due Process

Equal Protection

Available Documents:

Injunctive (or Injunctive-like) Relief

Any published opinion

U.S. Supreme Court merits opinion

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Plaintiff

Nature of Relief:

Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement

Declaratory Judgment

Source of Relief:

Litigation

Order Duration: 1967 - None

Issues

Discrimination Basis:

Race discrimination

Affected Race(s):

Black