Posted on January 17, 2022

Va. Attorney General Overturns 58 Historic Legal Opinions That Perpetuated Racism

Emily Davies, Washington Post, January 13, 2022

Outgoing Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring on Thursday announced that he had overturned 58 historic legal opinions that perpetuated racial discrimination, acknowledging that his office once served as “a key cog in the machinery of oppression.”

The opinions, issued between 1904 and 1967, were remnants of a time when the attorney general’s office played a role in upholding Jim Crow and maintaining segregation in schools long after it was outlawed.

The legal writings have been toothless since the Supreme Court issued rulings that outlawed discrimination on the basis of race. But Herring, who made the announcement along with members of the state’s NAACP and Legislative Black Caucus, said he hopes his sweeping order will send a message that Virginia is continuing to reckon with its past.

“By overruling these opinions, we are making clear that these legal opinions do not reflect the Virginia of today, and we will not carry them into the commonwealth of the future,” Herring said at a news conference Thursday.

The opinions applied or interpreted state laws that banned interracial marriage, segregated public schools and disenfranchised Black citizens by requiring poll taxes and literacy tests, among other discriminatory practices.

{snip} Over the past eight years, Herring became nationally known for his fierce progressive bent, calling himself the “people’s lawyer,” in part for his willingness to take on conservatives and powerful interests on high-profile issues such as gun control and same-sex marriage. During his term, he also came under fire for darkening his skin to dress as a rapper at a 1980 college party. {snip}


This is far from the first time that elected leaders in the state have wrestled with Virginia’s history by wiping away emblems of its past. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D), who himself faced intense public scrutiny over a blackface photo, appointed a commission to find racist language that persisted in the state code, which the General Assembly ultimately used to scrap discriminatory language from its books. Confederate statues across the state, including the state’s biggest statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, have fallen one by one since the state overturned decades-old prohibitions on the removal of Confederate war memorials.