Loving v. Virginia (1967)

Loving v. Virginia was a challenge to the State of Virginia’s statute banning marriage between Caucasians and “people of color.” At the time, Virginia was one of 16 states that prohibited interracial marriage, and the penalty for a prohibited marriage, beyond it being voided by the state, was a felony conviction carrying 1-5 years in prison. This specific challenge was raised by Mildred and Richard Loving. The interracial couple had married in Washington D.C., then moved back to Virginia and lived together as husband and wife, a cohabitation and claim which was prohibited by the State. After a police raid, the couple was charged, pled guilty, and were told their sentences would be suspended for 25 years so long as they left Virginia and didn’t come back.

A unanimous Supreme Court overturned the Virginia law, finding that it offended basic precedent running back to at least the passage of the 14th Amendment. The court rejected the idea that “the color of a person’s skin [is] the test of whether his conduct is a criminal offense” and found “patently no legitimate overriding purpose independent of invidious racial discrimination” justifying the law.