Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Justice Carrico and deference to the legislature

As I have recently read Virginia Hasn't Always Been for Lovers: Interracial Marriage Bans and the Case of Richard and Mildred Loving, it gave me occasion to read the Virginia Supreme Court opinion in the Loving case, written by Justice Carrico.

In that opinion, Justice Carrico applied the Court's earlier opinion in Naim v. Naim, 197 Va. 80, 87 S.E.2d 749 (1955), and refused to recognize that the U.S. Supreme Court's intervening decision in McLaughlin v. State of Florida, 379 U.S. 184 (1964), justified a different course. Loving v. Com., 206 Va. 924, 147 S.E.2d 78 (1966). Rejecting the policy arguments of the appellants, Justice Carrico wrote:

"A decision by this court reversing the Naim case upon consideration of the opinions of such text writers would be judicial legislation in the rawest sense of that term. Such arguments are properly addressable to the legislature, which enacted the law in the first place, and not to this court, whose prescribed role in the separated powers of government is to adjudicate, and not to legislate."

Justice Carrico joined in the dissent in the case of Lockhart v. Commonwealth Educ. Systems Corp., 247 Va. 98, 439 S.E.2d 328 (1998). In his dissent, Justice Compton explained that the majority had bypassed the statutory prohibition in then-Va. Code 2.1-725 against new causes of action based on the public policy of the Virginia Human Rights Act.

I compare these opinions with the analysis of the Court in Martin v. Ziherl, 269 Va. 35, 607 S.E.2d 367 (2005). Although not cited in Martin, the Court had recently applied the fornication statutes, in Mitchem v. Counts, 259 Va. 179, 523 S.E.2d 246 (2000), where the Court found that those statutes provided independent basis in public policy for the plaintiff's wrongful discharge claim, thereby avoiding the limitations of the amended section 2.1-725. In Mitchem, again with Justice Carrico joining in the dissent, the Court characterized the fornication statutes as among the "[l]aws that do not expressly state a public policy, but were enacted to protect the property rights, personal freedoms, health, safety, or welfare of the general public," on which a wrongful discharge claim could be based. After the intervening decision by the Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003), however, the same Court was willing in Martin to conclude that the fornication statute was irrational, and therefore unconstitutional. I suspect that Justice Carrico would have dissented in Martin, as well.

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