Courts Move against Racial Classification and toward Interracial Marriage
This is the fifth in a 7-part series about laws forbidding interracial marriage. Part 1 was an introduction to the topic and “A Short History of Anti-Miscegenation Statutes,” dating back to the Reconstruction Era. Part 2 took a look into the criminal cases arising out of the anti-miscegenation statutes, which resulted in the courts in Alabama nullifying marriages between black and white residents. Part 3 reviewed Pace v. Alabama, the United States Supreme Court case arising out of Alabama’s anti-miscegenation statutes, in which the Supreme Court upheld racial classification as long as the laws applied to all races in equal measure. Part 4 told the story of Jesse Williams who endured multiple criminal trials for his interracial marriage with white women.
The 1954 Decisions, Holding Steady against Interracial Marriage
By the mid-twentieth century, the Alabama courts of appeal had made clear that they would uphold the rulings of trial courts in miscegenation cases in which the defendants were properly charged, indicted, and convicted. Yet in 1954, defendants in two separate matters decided to tempt the resolve of the Alabama Court of Appeals.
Linnie Jackson (a black female) was convicted of having violated Alabama Code Title 14, § 360 (1940), wherein: “If any white person and any negro, or the descendant of any negro intermarry, or live in adultery or fornication with each other, each of them shall, on conviction, be imprisoned in the penitentiary for not less than two nor more than seven years.” A jury convicted Jackson “of the legislative crime of intermarrying with a white person” for having married A.C. Burcham. Jackson appealed her conviction on grounds that the statute was in contravention of federal constitutional grounds; specifically, she alleged that the offense “constitutes an arbitrary and unreasonable discrimination by the State of Alabama against this Negro Defendant, and a denial to her by the State of Alabama of due process of law, and further constitutes an abridgment of the privileges and immunities of this Negro Defendant by the State of Alabama,” all of which she argued were guaranteed to her by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States. The Alabama Court of Appeals denied her application for rehearing and affirmed the judgment of the trial court.
In the matter of Rogers v. State, Gold Lillie Rogers was convicted of miscegenation for having violated Alabama Code Title 14, § 360 (1940). Rogers was “a negro or descendant of a negro [who did] intermarry with a white person”, R. L. McCurry. In her appeal for rehearing, Rogers challenged the statute on constitutional grounds, alleging that it “constitutes an arbitrary and unreasonable discrimination by the State of Alabama against this Negro defendant…and further constitutes an abridgement of the privileges and immunities of this Negro defendant by the State of Alabama, all guaranteed to her by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution of the United States of America.” The appellate court affirmed the conviction, and in referring to its decision in Jackson v. State, upheld the constitutionality of the statute on the grounds that it prescribed equal punishment to both white and black persons who intermarried or lived together “in adultery or fornication” thereby conforming to the Constitution of the United States.
McLaughlin v. Florida, a Precursor to Loving
In 1964, amidst the rising swell of civil rights legislation and judicial decisions, the United States Supreme Court heard the matter of McLaughlin v. Florida wherein a Florida man, Dewey McLaughlin, had been convicted under a Florida statute “providing punishment for any Negro man and white woman or any white man and Negro woman who are not married to each other and who shall habitually live in and occupy the same room in the nighttime.” The Supreme Court had last ruled on such a matter in 1881 in Pace v. Alabama, and at that time held that so long as laws were applied equally to members of either race then racial classification under the law was not discriminatory. In McLaughlin, the Court held:
“Because the section [Fla. Stat. Ann. § 798.05] applies only to a white person and a Negro who commit the specified acts and because no other couple than one made up of a white and a Negro is subject to conviction upon proof of the elements comprising the offense it proscribes, we hold § 798.05 invalid as a denial of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.”
The Court further clarified its position that § 798.05 clearly treats couples of differing races differently than it treats couples of the same race. The Court recognized that the decision being made in McLaughlin was in contravention of its decision in Pace, because the Court’s holding in Pace and the narrow view of the Equal Protection Clause instituted therein had “not withstood analysis in the subsequent decisions of the Court” and was “soon swept away.”
Since Pace was decided in 1881, the Court had adopted a different level of scrutiny for matters pertaining to the Equal Protection Clause, whereby judicial inquiry did not end with a showing of equal application among members of the legislatively defined class, but rather with a determination whether the classification itself is reasonable in light of its purpose. Because the Fourteenth Amendment is aimed at eliminating racial discrimination, racial classifications are “constitutionally suspect” and “subject to the most rigid scrutiny.”
In spite of the Supreme Court invalidating Florida statute § 798.05 on grounds of improper racial classification, the Court explicitly refused to carry over its ruling to Florida’s interracial marriage statute: “We accordingly invalidate § 798.05 without expressing any views about the State’s prohibition of interracial marriage….” The Supreme Court of the United States would not rule on the constitutionality of prohibitions against interracial marriage for another three 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“
 Jackson v. State, 37 Ala. App. 519 (1954).
 Jackson at 519.
 Rogers v. State, 37 Ala. App. 638, 639 (1954).
 Id. at 639.
 Id. at 638.
 McLaughlin, 379 U.S. 184 (1964) (quoting Fla. Stat. Ann. § 798.05). McLaughlin was convicted under Fla. Stat. Ann. § 798.05 in Dade County Criminal Court; he appealed his conviction to the Florida Supreme Court, which affirmed his conviction, whereupon he appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States. The punishment for violating the subject statute was “imprisonment not exceeding twelve months, or by fine not exceeding five hundred dollars.” Fla. Stat. Ann. § 798.05.
 See McLaughlin at 188. Specifically, other sections of § 798 outline the elements of adultery and make it illegal for both couples of the same race and couples of differing races; in these code sections, the elements of each offense is the same. But as pertains to § 798.05, which makes it illegal “for any Negro man and white woman or any white man and Negro woman who are not married to each other and who shall habitually live in and occupy the same room in the nighttime”, there is no similar code section for couples of the same race.
 Id. at 188-190.
 See McLaughlin at 191.
 Id. at 192.
 Id. at 196.
Photo via Paul Townsend.