With a number of high-profile Supreme Court cases in the news, we take a look at the groundbreaking Virginia-based cases that have made their way to the nation’s highest court. Many of these cases dealt with issues of race and segregation in the Commonwealth, as well as with issues of reproductive coercion and freedom to marry.
- In Ex Parte Virginia, decided on March 1, 1880, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Congress had the authority to prevent a Danville judge from excluding African American men from serving on juries, citing as precedent the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Following the ruling, however, many state judges found other means to exclude African Americans from jury service
- In Buck v. Bell, decided on May 2, 1927, the U.S. Supreme Court, by a vote of 8 to 1, affirmed the constitutionality of Virginia’s law allowing state-enforced sterilization. The appellant, Carrie Buck, was deemed feebleminded and promiscuous after being allegedly raped by her stepparents’ nephew. In an infamous opinion, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. noted that Buck, her mother, and her daughter were all suspected of being feebleminded, declaring, “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” The opinion was never overturned and led to a marked increase in sterilizations across the United States.
- In Morgan v. Virginia, decided on June 3, 1946, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Virginia law requiring racial segregation on commercial interstate buses as a violation of the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution. The appellant, Irene Morgan, was riding a Greyhound bus from Hayes Store, in Gloucester County, to Baltimore, Maryland, in 1944 when she was arrested and convicted in Saluda for refusing to give up her seat to a white person. Morgan’s refusal foreshadowed Rosa Parks’s more famous action a decade later and marked an early and important victory in the civil rights movement.
- Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, decided on May 17, 1954, struck down the doctrine of “separate but equal” in public schools. The case bundled school desegregation cases from several states, including Davis, et al. v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, which challenged segregation in Prince Edward County schools following the Moton school strike. Despite the court’s unanimous decision, Virginia’s leaders responded with a policy of Massive Resistance to school desegregation. Prince Edward County closed its schools rather than integrate them. Another Supreme Court decision, Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward, forced the county’s schools to reopen in 1964.
- Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections combined two cases, Butts v. Harrison, Governor of Virginia, brought by Evelyn Thomas Butts, a Norfolk civil rights activist, and Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections, filed by Annie E. Harper and three other African American residents of Fairfax County, challenging the constitutionality of Virginia’s poll tax. The Court ruled on March 24, 1966, that the imposition of a poll tax in state elections violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
- In Loving v. Virginia, decided on June 12, 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously struck down Virginia’s law prohibiting interracial marriages as a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The appellants, Richard and Mildred Loving, of Caroline County, had married in Washington, D.C., in June 1958 and then returned to Virginia, where they were arrested for violating Virginia’s 1924 Act to Preserve Racial Integrity. The Supreme Court ruled that the act denied Virginians’ “fundamental freedom” to marry.
- Charles C. Green et al. v. County School Board of New Kent County, Virginia, was a U.S. Supreme Court decision that ordered New Kent County to abolish dual systems of education for Black and white students and design a realistic plan to genuinely integrate schools following actions by county officials to delay desegregation. The Court ruled on May 27, 1968, against Kent County’s “freedom of choice plan,” which required parents to petition to change their children’s school and had resulted in little integration, forcing school districts around the state to fully implement Brown v. Board of Education.