Tuesday, February 14, 2012

"Tell the Court I Love My Wife"

Tonight, HBO premieres The Loving Story, a 2011 documentary about the fight against miscegenation laws in the 1950s and 1960s. Arrested and convicted in Virginia after returning home from their wedding in Washington, D.C., the interracial couple Richard and Mildred Loving faced either a year in jail or self-imposed exile in exchange for a suspended sentence. With the help of Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and the American Civil Liberties Union, the Lovings’ motion to vacate their 1958 conviction made it to the U.S. Supreme Court in the spring of 1967.

The oral argument, which can be heard at the OYEZ Project or read in volume 64 of Landmark Briefs and Arguments, included Richard Loving’s simple request to his attorney, Bernard Cohen: “Tell the Court I love my wife, and it’s just unfair that I can’t live with her in Virginia.” The unanimous opinion, published at 388 U.S. 1, agreed that “[t]here can be no doubt that restricting the freedom to marry solely because of racial classifications violates the central meaning of the Equal Protection Clause.” At the time of the Court’s ruling, sixteen states had similar laws on their books.

Don’t have premium cable? Never fear; we’re sure that The Loving Story will be added to the library’s DVD collection when it’s released. In the meantime, you can also read more about the Lovings in the 2004 book Virginia Hasn’t Always Been for Lovers: Interracial Marriage Bans and the Story of Richard and Mildred Loving. The Loving case is also explored in the first chapter of Family Law Stories. In addition, you can read the filings from the case at U.S. Supreme Court Records and Briefs and Landmark Briefs and Arguments. For help researching this or any other landmark Supreme Court cases, be sure to Ask a Librarian.