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The 1971 Virginia Constitution

(1971-2021)

1969 Virginia Commission

Photograph. Ted Dalton, Alexander M. Harman, Jr., Lewis F. Powell, Jr., Oliver W. Hill at the 1969 Virginia Commission on Constitutional Revision. The Papers of A. E. Dick Howard for the Virginia Commission for Constitutional Revision, 1969-1971. University of Virginia Law Library.

CC BY Image courtesy of University of Virginia Law Library

Photograph. Ted Dalton, Alexander  M. Harman, Jr., Lewis F. Powell, Jr., Oliver W. Hill at the 1969 Virginia Commission on Constitutional Revision. The Papers of A. E. Dick Howard for the Virginia Commission for Constitutional Revision, 1969-1971. University of Virginia Law Library.

In Richmond in 1968 the Virginia governor Mills E. Godwin, Jr. appointed and then formed a joint effort with the Virginia General Assembly to oversee a Commission on Constitutional Revision. This committee worked to modernize the Constitution as the last major changes to the Virginia Constitution were in 1902. The Constitution of Virginia was outdated and a few Supreme Court decisions (e.g.: Loving v. Virginia, Brown v. Board of Education), as well as amendments to the United States Constitution, made null and void aspects of the 1902 Virginia Constitution. The Civil Rights movement in the 1960s had a large hand in pushing Virginia to adopt a new Constitution. The Committee worked through 1968 and 1969. Virginia’s General Assembly also revised the new Constitution draft in 1969. In 1970 revisions were proposed and a public vote was taken throughout the state on ratification. This vote included African American men and women. The public vote was overwhelmingly in favor (72 percent) of passing the new Virginia Constitution. In 1971 on July First, the new Virginia state Constitution was instated.

Constitutional Revision Members

Photograph. Virginia Commission on Constitutional Revision Group Picture. The Papers of A. E. Dick Howard for the Virginia Commission for Constitutional Revision, 1969-1971. University of Virginia Law Library.

CC BY Image courtesy of University of Virginia Law Library

Photograph. Virginia Commission on Constitutional Revision Members at UVA. The Papers of Hardy Cross Dillard. University of Virginia Law Library.

The 1971 Constitution overturned several Jim Crow laws that the 1902 Constitution had codified. In addition, the new constitution recognized equal public education as a fundamental right. It also provided some protection of Virginia’s natural resources.

Since its ratification in 1971, there have only been a few changes to the Virginia Constitution. Notably, in 2006 there was an amendment added that restricted marriage to only heterosexual couples. This was overturned in 2015 when the Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges, deciding same-sex marriages to be legal.

The 1971 Virginia Constitution remains the current state constitution. In July of this year, 2021, it will be 50 years since the 1971 version was signed into law.