The Waite Court (1874–88)

Criminal Justice

In what decision did the Waite Court uphold a fornication law with increased penalties for interracial associations?

The Waite Court unanimously upheld a state fornication law in Pace v. Alabama (1883) that was designed to prevent interracial associations. The law in question provided that those who live together in fornication could be punished with a $100 fine and six months in jail. However, if the fornicating individuals were black and white, then the penalties were substantially increased to between two and seven years in prison.

Tony Pace, a black man, and Mary Cox, a white woman, were charged with violating the law. Pace challenged his conviction, arguing that the statute violated equal protection by discriminating on the basis of race.

The Waite Court ruled that the statute did not violate equal protection because it punished both the white and black offender who engaged in interracial associations equally. This decision was not overruled until the Warren Court’s decisions in McLaughlin v. Florida (1964) and Loving v. Virginia (1967), which struck down a ban on interracial marriage.


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