RICHMOND, Va. -- A commission tasked with finding “laws in Virginia that have the effect or could have the effect of enabling or promoting racial inequity or inequality” released its first report on Thursday, identifying 98 of them and recommended they be repealed.
Governor Ralph Northam said at the report’s unveiling that he is committed to repealing all those laws in the upcoming General Assembly session.
The Commission to Examine Racial Inequity in Virginia Law was established by an executive order from Northam and he tasked the with reviewing the Virginia Acts of Assembly, Code of Virginia, and administrative regulations to determine which laws may be fostering racial inequality, and make recommendations as to how to address them.
Thursday’s interim report looked at Acts of Assembly, legislative actions passed by the General Assembly, from 1900 to 1960.
The executive summary of the report said it focused on this time period because it encompassed the during which “most states in the former Confederacy adopted new Constitutions that disenfranchised African Americans, and passed laws the reversed and overturned whatever gains and progress had been made during and following Reconstruction”, “the second rise of the Ku Klux Klan”, and “representing Virginia’s reaction to federally-mandated school desegregation”.
The report said it found “several plainly racist and discriminatory provisions” in the Acts covering subjects like education, voting, and healthcare. It added that “most of these pieces of legislation are outdated and have no legal effect, they remain enshrined in law” and said they “should no longer have official status.”
Northam called the report eye-opening.
“To have in the Acts of Assembly that children can’t go to an integrated school and that curtains have to be pulled up when individuals are on trains,” said Northam.
Northam said he was inspired to create the commission “by the leadership of Senator Spruill and Delegate Marcia Price in repealing Jim Crow era minimum wage exemptions during the 2019 legislative session.” It also followed his scandal during the same session in which a racist photo was found on his medical school yearbook page and he admitted to wearing blackface.
With the interim report done, the commission said it will now “further analyze and make recommendations relating to language that, while not explicitly racist or discriminatory, has had the demonstrated effect of ‘promoting or enabling racial discrimination or inequity’”.
“The next phase of our work necessarily will move into what is in the currently effected Virginia Code. Clearly, the presently-effective law, we will not find, it’s certainly not my expectation to find the expressly racist language and intent that we found in the Acts of Assembly from generations ago,” said commission chair Cynthia Hudson, who is also the Chief Deputy Attorney General of Virginia. “So, the nature of the work will turn to trying to discern what the impact is from an equity perspective of current law that might not on its face appear discriminatory, but in its effect, disproportionately impacts people of color and other under-represented communities.”
Hudson said while this first report was more about poring over old text and law books, this next phase will include some public engagement on the impacts of current laws.
“So that we’re better informed about how people are actively affected by laws that we might not realize, even in reviewing them and analyzing them, are effecting a discriminatory impact,” added Hudson.