Family Law Keyed to Weisbergback
Brief Fact Summary. An African-American woman and a Caucasian man were charged and pled guilty to a Virginia statute banning interracial marriages.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. The Equal Protection Clause calls for strict scrutiny when laws contain classification based upon race. Such laws are only upheld if a legitimate state interest independent of the racial discrimination exists.
Facts. Jeter, an African-American woman, and Loving, a Caucasian man, were married in 1958 in the District of Columbia. Both where residents of Virginia. The couple returned to Virginia and was charged with violating the state ban on interracial marriages. The Lovings pled guilty and were sentenced to a one year suspended sentence so long as they leave the state and not return for twenty five years.
Issue. Does the Virginia statute prohibiting marriages solely on the basis of racial classification violate the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment?
Held. The Fourteenth Amendment does not permit the freedom of choice to marry to be restricted by racial discrimination.
The State contends that marriage has traditionally been subject to state regulation without federal intervention under the Tenth Amendment, and that the statute has a legitimate purpose in preserving racial integrity. Furthermore, the State claims that the statute punishes both races equally and thus the test under the Equal Protection Clause is if there is a rational basis for a State to treat the interracial marriages differently.
The equal application of a statute containing racial classifications does not remove it from the Fourteenth Amendment’s subjection of racial classifications to the most rigid scrutiny. The Equal Protection Clause only permits statues containing racial classifications to be necessary to accomplish a permissible state objective independent of the discrimination. The statute has not legitimate overriding purpose independent of invidious racial discrimination.
The statute also violates the Due Process Clause by violation the Lovings’ liberty to marry without due process of law.
Discussion. The Court found that even if the statute punished Caucasian and African-American participants equally, it was still subject to strict scrutiny. The state had no legitimate independent reason for the invidious racial discrimination, therefore the statute violated the Equal Protection Clause.