This week we are studying the landmark Supreme Court case of Loving v. Virginia, decided in 1967. In my video lecture that I have assigned for you to watch, you will see parts of a documentary about this case. “The Loving Story” includes archival footage and photos and recent interviews, which introduce us to the Lovings and their struggle and help us reflect on the historical importance of their case.
The 14th Amendment of the Constitution, including the Equal Protection Clause, was enacted after slavery was abolished but when many former Confederate states had adopted what were called Black Codes. The laws codified many inequities against black people, including limiting their rights to own property and to serve on juries. The Equal Protection Clause was a response to these laws. It restrained the power of state governments to infringe on individual rights, and it reinforced the idea that all citizens were equal under the law.
The Commonwealth of Virginia had a law known as the “Racial Integrity Act” that prohibited marriages between whites and non-whites (known as an anti-miscegenation statute). In June 1958, Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter, who lived in Virginia, were married in Washington, D.C. He was a white man; she was part African American and part Native American. They returned to their native Virginia to start their lives together, but they were jailed and then banished for breaking the state’s Racial Integrity Act. By marrying beyond the state’s borders and then living together as husband and wife in Virginia, they had broken the law.
The Lovings did not see themselves as activists. They were a quiet married couple living in the Virginia countryside. They were not involved in the events of the civil rights movement. Until they were roused from their bed by flashlight-bearing policemen and banished from the state, they were not likely to become symbols of that fight. But as the Lovings went from court to court to overturn state laws banning interracial marriage, their story proved symbol enough.
The American Civil Liberties Union (the ACLU) played a key role in the Loving case. After viewing the video lecture containing parts of the documentary, which will give you an understanding of the judicial process regarding the Loving case, take a closer look at the argument that the ACLU lawyers used to challenge the constitutionality of Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act. Answer the following questions:
• Explain what ACLU lawyer Philip Hirschkop meant when he said he feared that the court would declare the Lovings’ jail sentence unconstitutional but not address whether or not the law was constitutional.
• What does the 14th Amendment say?
• How was the Loving case related to the 14th Amendment?
• Why did ACLU lawyer Bernard Cohen say that Judge Bazile’s statement about God separating the races was a gift to their case?
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