Brief Fact Summary. The state of Virginia enacted laws making it a felony for a white person to intermarry with a black person or the reverse. The constitutionality of the statutes was called into question.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Restricting the freedom to marry solely on the basis of race violates the central meaning of the Equal Protection Clause.
Issue. Was rational basis the proper standard of review by which to evaluate the constitutionality of the statutes?
Were the Virginia miscegenation statutes constitutional under the Equal Protection Clause?
Held. No and No.
The mere fact that a statute is one of equal application does not mean that the statute is exempt from strict scrutiny review. The statutes were clearly drawn upon race-based distinctions. The legality of certain behavior turned on the races of the people engaging in it. Equal Protection requires, at least, that classifications based on race be subject to the “most rigid scrutiny.”
The Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution (Constitution) prohibits classifications drawn by any statute that constitutes arbitrary and invidious discrimination. The fact that Virginia bans only interracial marriages involving whites is proof that the miscegenation statutes exist for no purposes independent of those based on arbitrary and invidious racial discrimination.
Concurrence. Justice Potter Stewart (J. Stewart) argued it is not possible for a state law to be valid, which makes the criminality of an act depend upon the race of the actor.
Discussion. The key to this case is articulated in J. Stewart’s concurrence. The miscegenation statute was improper because it made the legal consequences of an action turn on the races of the persons participating in it.