Justice Carrico was admired for throwing a spotlight on the legal issues surrounding family violence in Virginia. He also advocated training lawyers in professionalism, saying that “commercialism has invaded the legal profession like a swarm of locusts. “
Harry Lee Carrico was born in Washington on Sept. 4, 1916, and grew up in Fauquier and Fairfax counties. After graduating from the old Lee-Jackson High School in Fairfax County, he received an associate’s degree from George Washington University in 1938 and a law degree from the university in 1942.
The next year, he was chosen to sit on Fairfax County’s Trial Justice Court, a predecessor of the current county court.
After Navy service in World War II, Justice Carrico worked in private practice before being named in 1956 to sit in Virginia’s 16th Judicial Circuit, which included Fairfax and Prince William counties and Alexandria. Five years later, Gov. J. Lindsay Almond Jr. (D) appointed him to the Supreme Court. In 1981, Justice Carrico was elevated by seniority to be chief justice.
He announced in 2002 that he would retire as chief justice the next year. Formal resignation appeared not to affect Justice Carrico’s activities. He continued to serve as a senior judge. Furthermore, he learned to rollerblade in his 70s. For many years beyond that, he continuing his practice of rising at 4:15 a.m. to ride his bicycle for up to 12 miles before reaching his office around 6:30.
His first wife, Elizabeth “Betty Lou” Peck, died in 1987 after 47 years of marriage. Survivors include his wife of 18 years, Lynn Brackenridge of Richmond; a daughter from his first marriage, Lucretia Carrico, a General District Court judge in Petersburg, Va.; a sister, Virginia Booker of Herndon; two grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.
After Justice Carrico announced that he would retire, a successor was chosen for the first time by majority vote of the justices. They chose Leroy R. Hassell Sr., who became the first black chief justice on the court.
In a 2010 interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Justice Carrico reflected on the Loving case and his conservative judicial philosophy that guided his decision.
“That case was decided on what the law was when [the opinion] was written, and up until that time, there was just no question that the regulation of marriage was strictly a state proposition,” he said.
“Whether I would do the same thing now or not is beside the point,” he said. “If I had been convinced after my research that it should have gone the other way, I’d have gone the other way. If you could find one word in there that is discriminatory, I’d like to know what it is.”
The Loving ruling was in keeping with Justice Carrico’s belief in following and not setting precedent, he told the Richmond paper.
“Sometimes you have a pretty strong urge to correct something that you know needs correcting, but if it’s beyond what you should do and what you shouldn’t do, then you shouldn’t do it,” he said. “Separation of powers is one of the bedrocks of our system of government.”