Loving v. Virginia

388 U.S. 1 (1967)

Quick Summary

Mildred Jeter (defendant) and Richard Loving (defendant) were legally married in Washington D.C. but were indicted in Virginia for their interracial marriage. Their case raised questions regarding the constitutionality of Virginia’s laws prohibiting interracial marriage.

The Supreme Court concluded that such laws violated the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, emphasizing that racial classifications in marriage laws require a compelling justification which Virginia did not provide.

Facts of the Case

In 1958, Mildred Jeter (defendant), an African American woman, and Richard Loving (defendant), a Caucasian man, were married in Washington D.C., where interracial marriage was legal. They then moved to Virginia, where their union was challenged due to a state law banning interracial marriages.

The couple was indicted in October 1958 by a Virginia grand jury and pleaded guilty to violating the state’s anti-miscegenation law. The trial judge sentenced them to one year in jail but suspended the sentence on the condition that they leave Virginia and not return together for 25 years.

The Lovings complied but later challenged their conviction, arguing that the Virginia law violated the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. Their case eventually reached the United States Supreme Court, which had to determine the constitutionality of Virginia’s racial classification in marriage laws.

Procedural Posture and History

  1. The Lovings were indicted and convicted in Virginia state court for violating anti-miscegenation laws.
  2. They filed a motion to vacate the judgment, which was denied by the state trial court.
  3. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia, which affirmed the conviction.
  4. The Lovings then appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which noted probable jurisdiction.

I.R.A.C. Format


Whether Virginia’s statutory scheme preventing marriages on the basis of racial classifications violates the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Rule of Law

The Fourteenth Amendment prohibits states from enacting laws that result in racial discrimination or deny individuals equal protection under the law. When a statute involves racial classifications, it must undergo the most rigid scrutiny and can only be upheld if it serves a compelling state interest.

Reasoning and Analysis

The Supreme Court found that Virginia’s laws were designed to maintain White Supremacy and therefore could not stand under the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court emphasized that marriage is a fundamental right and that racial classifications affecting this right must be subjected to the most rigorous scrutiny.

The Court rejected the state’s argument that its laws did not constitute invidious discrimination since they punished both white and non-white participants in interracial marriages equally. Instead, they held that any law restricting freedom to marry based on race is inherently suspect and requires a compelling justification, which Virginia failed to provide.


The Supreme Court reversed the convictions, holding that Virginia’s anti-miscegenation statutes violate both the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Concurring Opinions

Justice Stewart concurred with the judgment, stating his belief that a state law cannot be valid if it makes criminality depend upon race.

Key Takeaways

  1. Marriage is considered a fundamental right protected under the Constitution.
  2. Racial classifications in state laws are subject to strict scrutiny and must serve a compelling state interest to be deemed constitutional.
  3. The Supreme Court’s decision in Loving v. Virginia struck down anti-miscegenation laws and affirmed the principle of racial equality under the law.

Relevant FAQs of this case

What constitutes a 'compelling state interest' to justify a law that classifies based on race?

A ‘compelling state interest’ is one that is necessary or crucial, as opposed to preferable, and cannot be achieved through any less discriminatory means. It must be so paramount that it justifies an otherwise unconstitutional action.

  • For example: Ensuring national security might be considered a compelling state interest that could justify rigorous security screenings at airports, albeit applied uniformly without racial discrimination.

How do laws that impact fundamental rights receive different scrutiny from other types of legislation?

Laws impacting fundamental rights such as marriage, speech, or voting are subject to strict scrutiny, the highest level of judicial review. In this context, the government must show that the law is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest.

  • For example: A law that restricts freedom of speech in a public forum must serve a critical government objective and be the least restrictive means of achieving that goal.

In what scenarios does equal application of a law fail to satisfy the Equal Protection Clause?

Equal application of a law fails to satisfy the Equal Protection Clause when the law is discriminatory in its essence or effect. Even if applied equally, if it targets a specific class of individuals and lacks a substantial justification, it violates the provisions.

  • For example: A city ordinance that bans people from sleeping in public places may seem neutral but disproportionately affects the homeless population, failing to meet Equal Protection standards unless it addresses a significant societal issue.


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