Criminal Law Case Briefing
Loving v. Virginia, (1967)
CRJ425 – Criminal Law
Colorado State University Global
Case: Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1, 87 S. Ct. 1817, 18 L. Ed. 2d 1010, 1967 U.S. 1082.
Facts: Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving, an inter-racial couple, got married in the District of Columbia in 1958 (Loving v. Virginia, n.d.). The two originally resided in Virginia, and after the marriage, they returned to their home state. The couple was charged with violating Viginia’ s antimiscegenation statute that banned inter-racial marriages. Both Mildred and Richard were found guilty and sentenced to a year in jail (Loving v. Virginia, n.d.).
Procedural History: After the couple was charged they moved to D.C. and filed a motion to vacate their convictions in the Virginia trial courts (Loving v. Virginia, n.d.). Nearly a year later, the couple still had no decision on their motion and filed a class action in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. Several months later their motion was denied. The couple decided to appeal this denial and the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals decided to modify the sentence but maintained their original convictions (Loving v. Virginia, n.d.). The Lovings appealed this decision as well, and the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari.
Issue: Did Virginia’s antimiscegenation law violate the Equal Protection Clause? Was the rational basis the proper standard of review to evaluate the constitutionality of the statues?
Holding: Yes and No.
The State of Virginia’s argument that a statute is one of equal application does not make it exempt from strict scrutiny review and the statutes were very clearly drawn upon race based distinctions. The Equal Protection Clause requires that classifications based on race be subject to the “strict scrutiny” (Lippman, 2016). The fact that Virginia bans only interracial marriages involving whites shows that the miscegenation statutes exist for no other purpose beyond arbitrary racial discrimination (Loving v. Virginia, n.d.).
Rule: Restricting freedoms to marry solely on the basis of race is a violation of the Equal Protection Clause. Marriage is a basic civil right of man and is considered fundamental to existence and survival. To deny this freedom on a basis such as racial classification deprives all of the citizens of Virginia of liberty without due process. The 14th Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations (Loving v. Virginia, n.d.). Under the U.S. Constitution, “the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the state” (Loving v. Virginia, n.d.).
Court Analysis: The Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, in its opinion after denying the Loving’s motion, argued that the purpose of Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law was to “preserve the racial integrity of its citizens,” and to prevent “the corruption of blood,” “a mongrel breed of citizens,” and “the obliteration of racial pride”, Naim v. Naim, 197 Va. 80, 87 S. E. 2d 749, Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967).
Racial classifications must be subjected to “the most rigid scrutiny” (Lippman, 2016). Virginia’s law on miscegenation serve no purpose other than to perpetuate racial discrimination. With that in mind, it is clear that the law violates equal protections. Virginia’s argument that the law is “applied” equally to whites and blacks must be rejected since same-race couples are not punished criminally (Loving v. Virginia, n.d.). Furthermore, marriage is a fundamental right, and denial of this freedom is to deny due process.
Summary of Concurrences/Dissents: Justice Potter Stewart concurred with the decision of this case, expressing that “it is simply not possible for a state law to be valid under our Constitution which makes the criminality of an act depend upon the race of the actor.” McLaughlin v. Florida, 379 U.S. 184, 198 (concurring opinion) (Loving v. Virginia, n.d.).
My personal thoughts on the case are that in the end the right decision was made. Virginia’s laws on miscegenation clearly violated the Equal Protection Clause. The fact that they tried to justify their denial of the couples appeal on the basis that the state wanted “to preserve the racial integrity of its citizens” is a gross miscarriage of justice in addition to being an obvious endorsement of the doctrine of White Supremacy. Id., at 90, 87 S. E. 2d, at 756. Individual states should not have a say in an individual’s race, let alone the race of the individuals that want to be married.
Lippman, M. R. (2016). Contemporary criminal law: concepts, cases, and controversies (4th ed.). Los Angeles: SAGE
Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967)
Loving v. Virginia. (n.d.). FindLaw’s United States Supreme Court case and opinions. Retrieved March 21, 2020, from https://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-court/388/1.html
McLaughlin v. Florida, 379 U.S. 184, 198
Naim v. Naim, 197 Va. 80, 87 S. E. 2d 749