The Warren Court (1953–69)

Racial Discrimination

What did the Warren Court rule with respect to interracial marriages?

The Warren Court unanimously ruled in the 1967 decision Loving v. Virginia that a Virginia law banning interracial marriages violated the “central meaning” of the Fourteenth Amendment. At the time of the decision, sixteen states had laws barring such marriages. The Virginia law banned interracial marriages and said that those in violation could be imprisoned from one to five years. The Supreme Court reasoned that racial classifications are subject to the highest degree of scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause. The state argued that the law did not violate the Equal Protection Clause because whites and blacks in interracial marriages were punished equally. The state relied on the Supreme Court’s 1883 decision Pace v. Alabama, which had upheld an Alabama law that imposed greater penalties on those who committed adultery with a person of another race. The Court in Loving rejected this precedent, reasoning that the purpose of the Equal Protection Clause was “to eliminate all official state sources of invidious racial discrimination in the States.”


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