His tenure as a justice was among the longest in the history of the state. Even after he formally retired, he continued to hear cases as a senior judge and had been on the bench as recently as December.
In a statement issued Sunday, Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) praised Justice Carrico’s “vigor for public service” during a seven-decade career.
Justice Carrico’s best known opinion came in 1966. He wrote the ruling by which the Virginia Supreme Court unanimously upheld the state law against interracial marriage. The case became known as Loving v. Virginia and was named for the mixed-race couple, Richard and Mildred Jeter Loving.
The Lovings had married in Washington in June 1958 but soon returned to their native Caroline County, a rural area between Richmond and Fredericksburg. At the time, about two dozen states, including Virginia, prohibited interracial marriage.
The Caroline County sheriff burst into the Lovings’ home that July, roused the couple from their bed and told them the District’s marriage certificate was invalid in Virginia. The Lovings were subsequently charged and prosecuted.
They pleaded guilty, and a Caroline County Circuit Court judge sentenced them to a year in jail. He suspended the sentence under the condition that the Lovings leave Virginia. They moved to Washington but later decided to appeal their conviction, with help from the American Civil Liberties Union.
In writing for Virginia’s Supreme Court, Justice Carrico said overturning the statute would be “judicial legislation in the rawest sense of the term.” A more legally appropriate forum for arguments against the law would be the state legislature, he wrote.
According to reference works, he also took the position that the state law did not violate the 14th Amendment because it imposed equal penalties on each member of a mixed-race couple.
However, the opinion he wrote found fault under the Constitution with the sentencing condition banning the couple from Virginia. The case was sent back to the trial court for resentencing.
In rejecting Justice Carrico’s position, the U.S. Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, unanimously ruled in 1967 that the state law did in fact violate constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection. The high court thus eliminated what was regarded as one of the last vestiges in the United States of segregation by law.
Richard Loving died in 1975 in a car accident. Mildred Loving died in 2008. New attention has been devoted to the Loving case in recent months in connection with the debate over laws prohibiting same-sex marriage.