Virginia Courts

At their first trial on January 6, 1959, the couple pleaded guilty to the miscegenation charges and were convicted by Judge Bazile, who led the Caroline County Circuit Court. Their trial was without a jury and thus the judge followed Virginia Law very strictly and sentenced the couple to one year in prison, but offered that they could avoid jail time instead, by being banished for 25 years from both the county and state.1 They were forced to live with one of Mildred’s cousins and move to Washington, D.C., which is where they lived for over nine years. Their sentence declared that the Lovings could return to Virginia separately, for instance since Richard worked in the County, but Mildred could not return with him. For a few months, the couple lived in D.C. and obeyed their sentence, however, for Easter in 1959, they both went back to celebrate the holiday with their families, and were arrested on terms of violating their parole, but were released on bond.2 They would occasionally go back to their families periodically over the next five years, using two different cars, to make sure they wouldn’t be caught again.

By 1963, Mildred Loving wrote a letter to Attorney General, Robert F. Kennedy, requesting not to permanently move back home, but rather to persuade the county court to loosen their sentence and allow them to go back home together to see their families. Kennedy responded and referred her to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).3 The ACLU responded by assigning a fairly experienced civil rights lawyer, Bernard Cohen to oversee the Loving’s case and work with the couple to get their case as far as possible in the US Court System. He was joined by a newer attorney, who was educated on federal cases, Philip Hirschokop. Both attorneys worked together to file a motion in Virginia’s Caroline County Circuit Court, which requested the court to reverse the original decision on the criminal charges due to the sentences and the miscegenation law, which they argued that it went against the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.4 However, their appeal was denied because the law only allows appeals up to 180 days, and by 1963, it had already been over 3 years since their original sentence. However, on October 28, 1964, a year after the lawyers submitted the original appeal, they filed a federal class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, forcing Judge Bazile to issue a ruling and revisit his initial ruling from back in 1959. Almost six years after his original ruling, Bazile denied the motion, saying, “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay, and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”5 This statement by Judge Bazile made it easy for Cohen and Hirschokop to bring this case to the state level and have the State Courts hear the case, as well as practically guaranteed that this case would go eventually to the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court of the United States.

The next step in the Loving Case was to bring it to the Virginia Supreme Court in Richmond. In 1966, Justice Harry L. Carrico, who would eventually become Chief Justice of the Court, wrote an opinion for the court upholding the constitutionality of miscegenation. The Justice cited the Virginia Supreme Court’s decision in Naim v. Naim (1955) and ruled that criminalizing the Lovings’ marriage was not a violation of the Equal Protection Clause, because both spouses were punished equally for miscegenation. However, the court did find the Lovings’ sentences to be unconstitutionally vague, ordering that they be resentenced in Caroline County.6 The ACLU appealed the state supreme court’s decision to the Supreme Court of the United States, which agreed on December 12, 1966, to accept the case for final review and planned to hear the arguments in the spring.

  1. Leon Bazile, “Judgment Against Richard and Mildred Loving.” Indictment of a Felony, (Virginia: Caroline County, January 6, 1959.) ↩︎
  2. Wallenstein, Race, Sex, and the Freedom to Marry, 84-85. ↩︎
  3. Cashin, Loving, 112. ↩︎
  4. Wallenstein, Race, Sex, and the Freedom to Marry, 98-105. ↩︎
  5. Cashin, Loving, 112-113. ↩︎
  6. Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, Loving v. Commonwealth, (Virginia: Richmond, March 7, 1966.) ↩︎