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Northam pledges to repeal discriminatory language in state code

ralph northamGov. Ralph Northam is committing to repealing racially discriminatory language in the Virginia code, which, yeah, it’s hard to report on that without mentioning the blackface scandal.

Sorry, you just have to.

Northam established the Commission to Examine Racial Inequity in the Law in June and appointed members in September. That commission has produced an interim report identifying dozens of instances of overtly discriminatory language still on the books, including laws banning school integration, prohibiting black and white Virginians from living in the same neighborhoods, and prohibiting interracial marriage.

Many of these acts have been overturned by court decisions or subsequent legislation, but they remain enshrined in law.

“If we are going to move forward as a Commonwealth, we must take an honest look at our past,” Northam said. “We know that racial discrimination is rooted in many of the laws that have governed our Commonwealth—today represents an important step towards building a more equal, just, and inclusive Virginia.”

A news release from the governor’s office tells us that the effort to empower the commission was inspired by the leadership of State Sen. Lionell Spruill and Del. Marcia Price in repealing Jim Crow era minimum-wage exemptions during the 2019 legislative session.

The release cites the Northam administration’s “ongoing work to right historical inequities in areas like education, healthcare, and access to business opportunities.”

But then, also, there’s the blackface scandal that almost toppled Northam back in February.

Hey, maybe this is a good thing to happen from that bad, bad thing.

“As we continue to build a Commonwealth that guarantees equality, justice, and opportunity for all, we must be honest about those instances when our Commonwealth denied the rights and humanity of its own citizens because of the color of their skin,” said Chief Deputy Attorney General of Virginia Cynthia Hudson, chair of the Commission to Examine Racial Inequity in Virginia Law. “Repeal of these outdated, unjust, and in many cases plainly racist Acts of Assembly is an important step in recognizing and correcting the sins of the past. I thank Gov. Northam for his leadership in establishing this commission and in trusting me to chair it, and I look forward to continuing our work in the months ahead.”

The commission’s work is slated to continue after the 2020 legislative session. As a next step, commission members will identify laws that, while appearing race-neutral or non-discriminatory on their face, have the effect of perpetuating discrimination and racial inequity.

The commission’s full interim report is available here.

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