U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Criminalization of Interracial Sexual Relationships

In November 1881, a jury in Clarke County, Alabama, convicted Tony Pace, a black man, and Mary Cox, a white woman, under section 4189 of the Alabama Code, which criminalized “fornication” and “adultery” between persons of different races and outlawed interracial marriage. Pace and Cox were sentenced to two years in prison.

On January 29, 1883, in Pace v. Alabama, the United States Supreme Court unanimously upheld their convictions, reasoning that the anti-miscegenation statute was not discriminatory and did not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because the penalty applied equally to each member of the interracial couple.

Pace failed to overturn the reasoning of the Alabama Supreme Court, which had held that fornication between persons of different races was exceptionally “evil” because it could result in the “amalgamation of the two races, producing a mongrel population and a degraded civilization, the prevention of which is dictated by a sound public policy affecting the highest interests of society and government.”

State courts in the South relied on Pace to uphold anti-miscegenation laws until 1967, when the United States Supreme Court overturned it in Loving v. Virginia and invalidated anti-miscegenation statutes in the sixteen states that still enforced them.


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