Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh (D) issued an opinion Monday to formally overrule decades-old decisions that restricted interracial marriage and impaired the doctrine of “separate but equal” in public facilities— especially in public education.
Frosh, who will be stepping down in January after two terms, said the formal ruling reverses opinions from the attorney general’s office dating back as far as 1916 “that upheld or applied racially discriminatory state laws.”
“In years past the Office of the Attorney General issued opinions that upheld racially discriminatory laws in our state,” Frosh said in a statement. “The laws were abhorrent and ultimately held to be unconstitutional. We hope that our opinion today will help remove the stain of those earlier, harmful and erroneous works. We will continue to fight to stamp out racism and hate in all of our work for Maryland.”
The 13-page opinion addressed to the General Assembly leadership — Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) and House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County) — summarizes how the legislature passed discriminatory statues in the 17th century. In 1664, lawmakers passed a statute that all Black people would be enslaved for life, which “codified a practice that had already existed for decades.”
During that same year, the state enacted its first law that restricted marriages between English white women and enslaved Black men. Lawmakers continued to pass similar laws throughout the nearly three centuries that followed until the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1967 Loving v. Virginia case outlawed all bans on interracial marriage.
When it comes to school segregation, the Maryland General Assembly in 1865 approved a law to require each school district to have “one or more schools . . . which shall be free to all white youth.”
Prior to 1920, the state offered no public higher education opportunity to African Americans, according to the opinion. Sixteen years later, the state courts ruled the University of Maryland School of Law had to admit Black students because it had none.
Two years after the historic U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education that declared segregation of public schools unconstitutional, then-Maryland Attorney General C. Ferdinand Sybert (D) wrote a 1956 opinion that “considered whether Brown and related cases also invalidated the Maryland statutes that created segregated training schools.”
“The U.S. Supreme Court and the Maryland courts have made clear that laws prohibiting interracial marriage and providing for the racial segregation of public schools are illegal and contrary to the values of our federal and State constitutions,” according to Frosh’s legal document. “Renouncing these unfortunate opinions cannot change the past, but we hope that it will serve to reinforce our Office’s current commitment to equality under the law.”