Case 1: McLaughlin v. FloridaThis case was heard in 1964, and in it the court heard an appeal by Dewey McLaughlin, who was trying to overturn a conviction handed him for co-habiting (sharing an apartment) with Connie Hoffman, a white woman. McLaughlin argued that he was not black- despite his black-skinned appearances- but a Honduran who in fact spoke fluent Spanish. The arresting police had based their actions on McLaughlin’s appearance, so that the relationship between the two was considered illicit. McLaughlin challenged the differential treatment, arguing that the conviction had violated Florida’s protection law. Notably, though, McLaughlin did not challenge the state’s authority to regulate and control sexual conduct between the races. The Florida Supreme Court, on its part decide that McLaughlin had not been treated been differentially as the penalty was the same for both blacks and whites who crossed the race line (Moran, 2004).
The US Supreme Court, however, scrutinized the case closely and was determined to strike down any legislative classification, and decided that McLaughlin had been treated differentially. However, it was until the Loving v. Virginia case (three years later) that the court made its decision on the constitutionality of anti-miscegenation statutes, and thereby significantly influencing interracial sex relations and marriages for years to come.
Case 2: Loving v. Virginia
This case involved the couples, Mildred Jeter (a Negro woman) and Richard Loving (a white man) and Virginia State. The two were married in the District of Columbia. But shortly after their marriage, they returned to Virginia. However, in October 1958, a grand jury at the Circuit Court of Caroline County indicted the two for violating the ban on interracial marriages. The Lovings then pleaded guilty and were sentenced to a year in jail, but the trial judge- arguing that God placed different races in different planets because He did not intend them to intermarry- suspended the sentence for 25 years as long as the Lovings agreed to leave the State and not return together for that period of 25 years. In agreement, the Lovings moved to reside in the District of Columbia. But then they filed a motion on November 6, 1963 in the state trial court. Their goal was to vacate the judgment and have the sentence nullified on the premise that the statutes they had been accused of violating were themselves in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Because the case had been decided by October 28, 1964, the Lovings class case instituted in the United States District Court of the Eastern District of Virginia aimed to have the three-judge court rule the anti-miscegenation statutes unconstitutional and demand that the convictions be overturned. The case was unsuccessful. But the Lovings persisted, perfecting an appeal to Virginia’s Supreme Court of Appeals. But the Court of Appeals upheld the convictions, arguing that the statutes were constitutional, and that the Lovings were guilty for violating section 258 of the Virginia Code, particularly for leaving the state to evade law (i.e. get married outside the state and return) and for marriage (i.e. between a white person and a colored person). Even then, the Lovings would not give up, and in 1967, the United States Supreme Court ruled these statutes unconstitutional (Moran, 2004).
The main issues did not seem to have anything- or much- to do with interracial sex relations. Besides, the Lovings, before their marriage, had been acquaintances and must have had sexual relations, which many people, both black and white, must have known about. True, there were the notions of biological risks of race-mixing. Still, the relationship between Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter did not become a problem until their marriage. In other words, the main issue here had to do with their cohabiting. It is important to note that the Virginia High Court, despite upholding the decisions of the District Court, modified the sentence so that the Lovings would be allowed back into the state as long as they would not co-habit. The argument here was that marriages across color lines threatened the stability of families- the very basis blocks for public order-, citing what were seen as special social and psychological difficulties faced by the mixed-race couples and children (Moran, 2004).
The US Supreme Court, on its part, ruled that these arguments were unjustified, that the so-called scientific evidence on the dangers of race-mixing were too flimsy to justify the criminalization of interracial marriages. The court decided that marriage was an individual right and a matter of personal choice.
Anti-miscegenation statutes had played a key role in a racial classification system. These two cases (above) played a significant role towards undoing anti-miscegenation laws. However, the court did this without necessarily deconstructing that racial system, and carefully focused on and disapproved the so-called scientific basis for such a system.
In the end, these cases, in their own ways, were a significant influence on Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954) and the Fourteenth Amendment. They provided a crucial basis for the consideration of race-based discrimination in not only marriage, but also other areas, such as education. These cases had covered issues of due process, which were addressed more conspicuously in Brown v. Board of Education and the Fourteenth Amendment. The latter had meant to strengthen the legal rights of blacks, declaring that they would be treated equally and that they had a right to due process of law. Brown v. Board of Education (1954, 1955) refers to a series of five Supreme Court cases concerning issues of segregation in public schools, and the cases cited above provided vital basis for their judgment (Patterson, 2001; United States Courts, 2003).
- Moran, R.F. (2004). Love with a proper stranger: what anti-miscegenation laws can tell us about the meaning of race, sex, and marriage, 1663-1679. Hofstra Law Review
- Patterson, J.T. (2001). Brown v. Board of Education: a civil rights milestone and its troubled legacy. New York: Oxford University Press
- United States Courts (2003). History- Brown v. Board of Education re-enactment. Retrieved 05 February 2015, http://www.uscourts.gov/educational-resources/educational-activities/history-brown-v-board-education-re-enactment