Tag Archive for 'ACLU'

From the Archives: The NAACP Reviews Robert H. Bork

This post contains highlights of material from the Triangle Research Libraries Network’s CCC project, digitizing 40 archival collections related to the long civil rights movement from four area institutions. For more on this digitization project, click here.

Judge Bork's Views Regarding Racial Discrimination

Former Solicitor General and US Court of Appeals judge Robert H. Bork is remembered for his role in the Watergate scandal and his time serving as an advisor to Mitt Romney, but perhaps most vividly for the historic rejection of his nomination to the US Supreme Court. After President Reagan recommended Bork to the Supreme Court in 1987, the nomination was strongly opposed by a public campaign led by Democratic politicians like Edward Kennedy and organizations that included the NAACP, ACLU, and NOW.

Bork’s record as a strict constructionist who often disagreed with the racial and gender reforms of the 1960s and 1970s concerned many civil and women’s rights activists who feared that, as a Supreme Court Justice, Bork might work to overturn recent decisions on abortion and affirmative action. In August 1987, the NAACP released a report on “Judge Bork’s Views Regarding Racial Discrimination,” in which they detailed Bork’s record of opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act and his criticism of previous voting rights and affirmative action-related decisions. A copy of the NAACP’s report can be found in the Helen Edmonds papers. In one section the report quotes an article Bork wrote in 1964 where he described the “dangers” implied by the 1964 Civil Rights Act that “enforc[es] associations between private individuals which would, if uniformly applied, destroy personal freedom over broad areas of life.” 1 Bork’s hostility to the Civil Rights Act is attributed by the NAACP to his belief “that it infringed on the freedom of whites to discriminate.” 2 The report also highlighted Bork’s disapproval of laws protecting minorities against housing discrimination and poll taxes, as well as his support of Nixon’s anti-busing legislation, which hoped to limit the use of busing to desegregate public school systems across the South.

It was documents like this NAACP report that swayed opinion against Bork in 1987. After his nomination was rejected, Bork left the Court of Appeals and spent the rest of his life as a scholar, legal advisor, and best-selling author. Despite his controversial career, Bork was an extremely influential figure who inspired a generation of conservative lawyers and politicians. Judge Bork passed away in December 2012.

1. “Judge Bork’s Views Regarding Racial Discrimination.” Helen G. Edmonds Papers. Folder 100, Scan 1.

2. “Judge Bork’s Views Regarding Racial Discrimination.” Helen G. Edmonds Papers. Folder 100, Scan 15.

Richard and Mildred Loving and the Legalization of Interracial Marriage

On June 12, 1967—only 45 years ago today—the Supreme Court in the landmark Loving v. Virginia held that a Virginia law banning interracial marriages was unconstitutional, thereby legalizing interracial marriage in the United States.

Nine years earlier, two Virginians—an African American woman and a white man—were married in Washington, D.C. When they returned to their home state, they were found guilty of violating the anti-miscegenation statute (the “Racial Integrity Act”) and sentenced to a year in jail. A judge agreed to suspend the sentence provided the couple leave Virginia and not return for 25 years.

Richard and Mildred Loving initially chose to follow the judge’s orders; they lived in Washington, D.C., for five years.  Ultimately, though, they chose to fight the law, hiring Bernard Cohen (affiliated with the ACLU) to litigate for them. After lengthy legal wrangling, the case made its way to the Supreme Court, where Cohen made an impassioned argument about the Lovings’ right to be married:

The Lovings have the right to go to sleep at night knowing that if should they not wake in the morning, their children would have the right to inherit from them. They have the right to be secure in knowing that, if they go to sleep and do not wake in the morning, that one of them, a survivor of them, has the right to Social Security Benefits. All of these are denied to them, and they will be denied to them if the whole anti-miscegenistic scheme of Virginia. . . [is] found unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court in a unanimous decision ruled that Virginia’s statute violated the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The ruling read, in part:

Marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” fundamental to our very existence and survival. To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.

The landmark decision had far-reaching effects: at that time, there were a dozen other states with anti-miscegenation laws, and this ruling invalidated all of them. Although interracial couples still faced discrimination, the Loving case made possible the legal unions of countless interracial couples. Today, the implications extend beyond interracial marriage to the possibility of using the Fourteenth Amendment to bolster the marriage equality movement for same-sex unions.

For a discussion of the present-day effects of this case, check out Cambridge University Press’s Loving v. Virginia in a Post-Racial World: Rethinking Race, Sex, and Marriage (ed. Kevin Noble Maillard and Rose Cuison Villazor, forthcoming June 30, 2012).

To read the full text of the Loving decision, click here.

To listen to the oral argument, click here.

To learn more, check out this NPR story, and this encyclopedia entry. The ACLU also offers a helpful summary.

A recent documentary, The Loving Story, pays tribute to the couple and their significant contribution to the civil rights struggle, and discusses the current state of interracial marriage and tolerance.

For an excellent study, check out Fay Botham’s Almighty God Created the Races: Christianity, Interracial Marriage, and American Law (UNC Press, 2009). (The book gets its name from a particularly shocking line from Judge Leon Bazile’s 1959 ruling: “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.”)

Joshua Rothman presents an interesting study of interracial relationships in antebellum Virginia: Nortorious in the Neighborhood: Sex and Families across the Color Line in Virginia, 1787-1861 (UNC Press, 2003).

Elizabeth Smith-Pryor’s Property Rites: The Rhinelander Trial, Passing, and the Protection of Whiteness (UNC Press, 2009) shows that interracial relationships were not only discussed in the South, but rather throughout the country.