Leon Maurice Nelson Bazile was born on September 9, 1890, at the Bazile family home, Retirement, in Hanover County. He was the son of Aimé Maurice Bazile and Josephine Fox Bazile. Of French descent, he was a devout Roman Catholic. Bazile was educated in the local public schools, a private secondary school, and the law school of the University of Richmond. He graduated at the head of his class in 1910 but had to wait until his twenty-first birthday to begin practicing law. Bazile worked in private practice until 1916 when he joined the state attorney general’s staff. After a long courtship he persuaded Virginia Hamilton Bowcock, a Baptist, to. They were married in Richmond on January 26, 1918, and had one daughter.
In March 1918, Bazile was drafted into the army and served as a private and corporal in France in the 320th Infantry Division. After his discharge from the army in June 1919 he resumed working in the attorney general’s office, rising to the position of assistant attorney general by January 1924. In that role Bazile was called on for advice on the legal defense of Virginia’s 1924, and he made an unsuccessful defense in federal court of the state’s law limiting voting in party primaries to white people. Governor entrusted Bazile with several sensitive legal tasks during his administration from 1926 to 1930.
Regarded as an astute constitutional scholar and skillful litigator, Bazile was a champion of nineteenth-centurydoctrines. With each succeeding decade, he became more resentful of the legal and social changes taking place in the twentieth century. Bazile loved opera and classical music and disliked missing Saturday afternoon radio broadcasts of performances at the Metropolitan Opera of New York. He also indulged his interest in local history. Bazile carefully compiled gravestone inscriptions from several county cemeteries, did genealogical and local history research, and prepared a short history of Hanover County for publication in 1952 in the magazine Virginia and the Virginia County. He published a critical but well-informed review of a biography of , who was also a native of Hanover County, in the July 1948 issue of the William and Mary Quarterly.
In 1930 Bazile returned to private law practice. The most notable case he handled was the 1939 defense of William E. Dodd, a historian and former ambassador to Germany, in a hit-and-run case involving a critically injured child. In 1935 Bazile won election as ato represent Hanover and King William counties in the House of Delegates. He easily won re-election in 1937 and 1939 and served in the assembly for six years as a member of the Committees on Roads and Internal Navigation and on Schools and Colleges as well as the relatively less important Committees on Executive Expenditures and on Federal Relations and Resolutions. In Bazile’s first term John Powell and , Virginia’s leading white supremacists, asked him and another delegate to sponsor a resolution asking Congress to pay for voluntary emigration of African Americans to Liberia. The resolution passed the house by voice vote without objection and passed the Senate by a large majority.
On June 28, 1941, the governor appointed Bazile judge of the Fifteenth Circuit, which included the counties of Caroline, Hanover, King George, Stafford, Spotsylvania, and the city of Fredericksburg. The next session of the General Assembly elected him to the first of three eight-year terms in January 1942. In 1960 the circuit was reduced to encompass only the counties of Caroline and Hanover. What Washington Post columnisttermed “the eccentricities of an unusual personality” and “air of whimsical independence which has rubbed many persons the wrong way” led the judge into disputes with local officials and unusual criminal punishments such as banishment from the state. One of those conflicts delayed Democratic Party endorsement of Bazile’s reelection to the bench in 1950.
In 1948, when the campaign of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for equalization of white and black public schools reached King George County, Bazile became deeply involved. Fearing that a federal court would find that only desegregation would bring equalization, he declared that he would close the schools rather than permit desegregation. Because he had a role in appointing school board members he advised them to drop advanced courses in science and math in the white school to bring its curriculum in line with its black counterpart. The county restored the dropped classes shortly after voters approved a large school bond issue to improve education for African Americans.
Responding later to the Supreme Court’s 1954 and 1955 rulings, in May 1955 Bazile issued an injunction against spending revenue the county had approved in a 1953 referendum to build new schools. The bonds, he ruled, had become void because the funds had been designated for segregated schools, the only legal schools in Virginia then, and the money could not be spent on desegregated schools. In a widely noted twenty-one-page opinion Bazile argued that by removing the segregation clause from the state constitution the Supreme Court had knocked out the entire education article. Virginia therefore was under no obligation to provide public schools. The following year in County School Board of Hanover County v. Samuel W. Shelton the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals overruled the judge based on the wording of the referendum, which did not specify racially segregated schools. The influential segregationist organization cited Bazile’s opinion in its campaign to block desegregation of the schools.
Loving v. Virginia
On January 6, 1959, just prior to the decision on the school closings, Bazile’s docket in Caroline County contained the case of a couple charged with violating Virginia’s prohibition on interracial marriage, part of the Act to Preserve Racial Integrity, which he had handled as an assistant attorney general thirty-five years earlier. The previous year Richard Loving, a white man, and Mildred Jeter, a mixed-race woman, had married in the District of Columbia and returned to live in Caroline County. County authorities had arrested and indicted them for the crime of unlawful cohabitation as a married couple. In court the pair entered a plea of guilty, and the judgeto a one-year jail term, which he suspended on condition of banishment as a couple from the state for twenty-five years. For the time being, the Lovings moved to Washington, D.C.
in trying the hundreds of cases arising from the Danville civil rights demonstrations earlier that year. After suggesting that Aiken transfer many of the cases to distant locations in Virginia, Bazile held one of the principal demonstration leaders in contempt of court and imposed a jail sentence and a $100 fine as punishment. In that same year, the Lovings had taken their cause to the American Civil Liberties Union and moved back to Virginia to reopen their case, which the suspended sentence enabled them to do. Acting to preempt federal court action, Bazile responded on January 22, 1965, with his final ruling on the matter. Finding them guilty of a felony he sentenced them to a year in jail, and then he added the racist dictum that “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents … The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”
Attorneys for the Lovings appealed the ruling to the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. On March 7, 1966, the courtBazile’s interpretation of state law and judicial precedent but remanded the case for resentencing, noting that the penalty called for a one-year term in the state prison, not in the county jail, and that the suspension was improper. The Lovings then appealed directly to the U.S. Supreme Court. Their lawyers that Virginia’s prohibition of interracial marriage denied the Lovings the equal protection of the law and the due process of the law the guaranteed them. In its on June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court, quoting Judge Bazile’s racist dictum in full, unanimously declared that Virginia’s marriage law created an invidious racial discrimination in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Bazile did not live to see the final decision in Loving v. Virginia, which he undoubtedly would have regarded as the culmination of a disastrous, decades-long trend in federal jurisprudence. In November 1965, ill and suffering the effects of surgery, he retired from the bench. Bazile died at his home near Atlee in Hanover County on March 18, 1967, almost three months before the Supreme Court overturned his opinion. He was buried in the family cemetery in Hanover County. In June 1968 his portrait was unveiled in the Hanover County courthouse.