Monday, May 05, 2008

R.I.P Mildred Loving

Mildred Loving, who along with her husband Richard challenged their arrest under Virginia's miscegenation law and eventually saw the law overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, died May 2 at 68. Her daughter announced Mildred's passing today.

Mildred did not set out to be a revolutionary. When she and Richard married in DC, then moved to Virginia, she did not know her marriage was a felony because she was black and Richard white. After some time living in Virginia a neighbor notified the police and they were arrested and jailed.

While Brown v. Board of Education gets most of the attention as the major case of the civil right era, Loving v. Virginia is a close second. In Loving the Court rejected the state's argument that the law did not violate equal protection because it treats whites and blacks the same (i.e. neither can marry the other.) In so doing the Court reaffirmed the principle announced in Brown that laws separating the races violate equal protection when their clear purpose is to perpetuate the view that one race is inferior.

More than that, Loving struck at the very heart of segregation -- the fear of intermarriage. Back when the Court first fumbled Equal Protection clause jurisprudence in Plessey v. Ferguson, it cited the traditional acceptance of anti-miscegenation laws as one supporting argument. Throughout the Jim Crow era intermarriage was frequently listed as one of the potential horrors desegregation would bring. In Loving the Court said once and for all that the fear of intermarriage was not a legitimate basis for policy.

On a day such as this, it's not a bad thing to think about the best the law can be. Repeatedly in the history of Constitutional law we find instances where absurdly ordinary people bring argumets before before the highest court in the land and change the world.

Godspeed, Mildred.

H/t Bitch Ph.d. for the heads up.


Ben said...

I know most of the major legal cases, but was unaware of the details here. Thanks for the info.