McLaughlin v. Florida

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McLaughlin v. Florida
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued October 13–14, 1964
Decided December 7, 1964
Full case name McLaughlin, et al. v. Florida
Citations 379 U.S. 184 (more)
85 S. Ct. 283; 13 L. Ed. 2d 222; 1964 U.S. LEXIS 63
Prior history Trial judge convicted, Fl Sup Ct affirmed. Appeal from the Supreme Court of Florida
Subsequent history Convictions set aside
Florida statute prohibits an unmarried interracial couple from habitually living in and occupying the same room in the nighttime. The same conduct when engaged in by members of the same race, is not prohibited. This is in violation of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the 14th Amendment and is, therefore, unconstitutional.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority White, joined by Warren, Black, Clark, Brennan, Goldberg
Concurrence Harlan
Concurrence Stewart, joined by Douglas
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. XIV

McLaughlin v. Florida 379 U.S. 184 (1964),[1] was a case in which the United States Supreme Court ruled unanimously that a cohabitation law of Florida, part of the state's anti-miscegenation laws, was unconstitutional. The law prohibited habitual cohabitation by two unmarried people of opposite sex, if one is black, and the other, white. The decision overturned Pace v. Alabama (1883), which had declared such statutes constitutional. It did not overturn the related Florida statute that prohibited interracial marriage between whites and blacks. Such laws were declared unconstitutional in 1967 in Loving v. Virginia.


Section 798.05 of Florida statutes read: "Any negro man and white woman, or any white man and negro woman, who are not married to each other, who shall habitually live in and occupy in the nighttime the same room shall each be punished by imprisonment not exceeding twelve months, or by fine not exceeding five hundred dollars."

This law was a part of the adultery and fornication laws of Florida. While all the other sections of this chapter required proof that sexual intercourse took place, sec 798.05 required only cohabitation. The law specifically prohibited a couple in which one is white and the other is black. It did not apply to any other racial groups or combinations. It was part of Florida's anti-miscegenation laws prohibiting marriage, cohabitation and extramarital sex between whites and blacks and only addressed relationships between whites and non-whites. Similar anti-miscegenation laws were enforced in many states into the 1960s,[citation needed] and by all Southern states until 1967, when all remaining state bans on interracial marriage between whites and non-whites were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia.[citation needed]


Justice White in his majority opinion held that the law, because it made a special case for couples of these two specific races, bore a "heavier burden of justification." Florida had not demonstrated any reason that made such a race-specific prohibition necessary.

That a general evil will be partially corrected may at times, and without more, serve to justify the limited application of a criminal law; but legislative discretion to employ the piecemeal approach stops short of permitting a State to narrow statutory coverage to focus on a racial group.

Though the state claimed that Sec 798.05 was ancillary to its statute prohibiting marriage between whites and blacks (Fl. St. Ann. 741.11), the Court did not consider that statute.

Justice Harlan, in his concurrence, emphasized the "heavier burden" requirement Justice White described and wrote that the law should pass a "necessity test," which is very stringent and applied to free speech cases.

Justices Stewart and Douglas refused to accept that there could be any such "overriding statutory purpose" that would require such discrimination based on skin color. Stewart wrote "We deal here with a criminal law which imposes criminal punishment. And I think it is simply not possible for a state law to be valid under our Constitution which makes the criminality of an act depend upon the race of the actor. Discrimination of that kind is invidious per se."

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