WASHINGTON (AP) — On June 12, 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court was wrapping up the final orders for the term. Among the cases before them was that of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple who had been sentenced to a year in jail for violating Virginia’s ban on marriage between people of different races.
The question posed by the Lovings’ plight was simple: Did Virginia’s law violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment? The justices’ unanimous conclusion also was simple — yes, it does — and felled not only Virginia’s law, but similar laws in 15 other states.
In observance of the 50th anniversary of this landmark decision, The Associated Press is republishing its 1967 story by reporter Karl R. Baumann on the Supreme Court’s ruling.
The Supreme Court sounded the death knell Monday for state laws outlawing racially mixed marriages.
While the unanimous decision specifically applied to Virginia’s antimiscegenation law, the language of Chief Justice Earl Warren’s opinion was so sweeping as to make it clear that similar statutes of 15 other states could not stand under legal attack.
Speaking for a unanimous court, Warren said the Virginia law rests solely upon distinctions drawn according to race.
He added: “The statues prescribe generally accepted conduct if engaged in by members of different races.”
Citing earlier decisions in racial cases, but not involving interracial marriage, Warren said the Supreme Court consistently has repudiated distinctions between citizens solely because of their ancestry as being odious to a free people whose institutions are founded upon the doctrine of equality.
“The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness of free man,” Warren declared.
The Virginia case involved Richard P. Loving, a 33-year-old white construction worker, and his part-Negro, part-Indian wife, Mildred, 27. Warren said they were deprived by law “of liberty without due process of law in violation of the due process clause of the 14th Amendment” to the U.S. Constitution.
“To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the 14th Amendment, is surely to deprive all the state’s citizens of liberty without due process of law,” Warren said.
“The 14th Amendment requires the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. Under our Constitution the freedom to marry a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the state.”
In the final day of its present term, before quitting until next Oct. 2, the court in a burst of speed handed down roughly a dozen opinions of major importance and scores of orders in other cases.
And Justice Tom C. Clark made final his retirement, an action taken to avoid any conflicts because his son, Ramsey Clark, now is attorney general.