Alabama’s Anti-Miscegenation Statutes: Upholding Racial Classification at the Supreme Court
This is Part 3 of a 7-part series entitled, “Alabama’s Anti-Miscegenation Statutes.” Prior posts in the series: Part 1, “A Short History of Anti-Miscegenation Statutes” and Part 2, “Nullifying Black-White Marriage in Alabama“. You’ll notice that Part 3, which addresses the United States Supreme Court’s consideration of racial classification in criminal laws in the matter of Pace v. Alabama, is shorter than any of the other posts. Here’s why: it segues well into the heart-wrenching saga of Jesse Williams (Part 4, next week), which deserves its own post.
Pace v. State of Alabama, Considering Racial Classification
In a decision that would be of great weight, not only in the State of Alabama but eventually in the United States at large, the Supreme Court of Alabama heard the matter of Pace v. State in 1881, in which Tony Pace (a black man) and Mary Ann Cox (a white woman) were convicted of having lived together “in a state of adultery and fornication” in violation of Alabama Code § 4189. The Court maintained its interpretation that this code section was not “obnoxious to any constitutional objection” and did not run contrary to the Fourteenth Amendment in that the “discrimination is not directed against the person of any particular color or race, but against the offense, the nature of which is determined by the opposite color of the cohabiting parties. The punishment of each offending party, white and black, is precisely the same.” The Court upheld the two-year imprisonments to which each of the defendants had been sentenced.
Pace and Cox petitioned the Supreme Court of the United States on a writ of error, arguing that the Alabama code section under which they had been indicted and convicted was in conflict with the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The United States Supreme Court upheld the ruling of the Alabama Supreme Court, stating that because the code sections in question do not discriminate “against the person of any particular color or race” and the “punishment of each offending person, whether white or black, is the same”, the Alabama code sections did not offend the Constitution, for the Fourteenth Amendment ascribes “like punishment, pains, penalties, taxes, licenses and exaction of every kind, and none other” to “all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States.”
In short, so long as laws were applied equally to members of either race, it was determined that racial classification was not discriminatory. Pace v. Alabama would remain the only federal precedent pertaining to anti-miscegenation laws for more than eighty years.
- Part 1, “A Short History of Anti-Miscegenation Statutes“
- Part 2, “Nullifying Black-White Marriage in Alabama“
- Part 3, “Pace v. Alabama: Upholding Racial Classification at the Supreme Court“
- Part 4, “Repeat Offender: The Saga of Jesse Williams“
- Part 5, “Courts Move against Racial Classification and toward Interracial Marriage“
- Part 6, “Loving v. Virginia: An End to Interracial Marriage Bans“
- Part 7, “2001, A Race Odyssey: Alabama’s Anti-Miscegenation Statute is Repealed“
 Pace, 69 Ala. 231, 231 (1881).
 Id. at 232.
 See Pace v. Alabama, 106 U.S. 583 (1883). The Fourteenth Amendment reads in pertinent part: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” U.S. Const. Amend. XIV.
 Id. at 584-585.
This article first appeared in The Alabama Review, Vol 68, No. 4 (October 2015).
Photo by LeylanR.