Last edited: February 28, 2005

Obituary: Robert Merhige, Jr.

Robert R. Merhige, Jr., a federal trial court judge, died February 18, 2005 after undergoing open heart surgery on Tuesday. His obits note his distinguished career and many of his rulings, especially ones that caused controversy, such as ordering the desegregation of Virginia schools. But they miss the fact that he was the dissenter in Doe v. Commonwealth’s Attorney for the City of Richmond, 403 F. Supp. 1199 (E.D. Va. 1975), the case which upheld Virginia’s sodomy law and which was summarily affirmed by the Supreme Court. Nice to see that he lived to see himself vindicated by Lawrence and Garner v. Texas.

February 19, 2005

RICHMOND, VA. (AP)—Robert Merhige Jr., a federal judge whose rulings forcing schools to desegregate made him so unpopular that for a time he required 24-hour protection, died Friday at a hospital after undergoing open heart surgery days earlier, his son said. He was 86.

Named to the federal bench in 1967 by President Lyndon Johnson, Robert Merhige Jr. ordered dozens of Virginia’s school systems to desegregate.

After a 1972 decision to consolidate public school systems in Richmond and neighboring counties for the sake of integration, his dog was shot to death, and a guest cottage on his property was destroyed by arson.

Last year, Merhige told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that he was still disappointed and angry at the public reaction to his rulings.

The consolidation order was reversed on appeal and made its way to the Supreme Court. In 1973, the high court deadlocked 4-4 on the case, which ended the consolidation effort.

Merhige also ruled in 1968 that the conflict in Vietnam was a war, whether or not it was a declared war. That ruling came in a case in which 96 Army reservists tried to avoid serving in Vietnam. Merhige denied their request.

He retired in 1998 and joined the law firm of Hunton & Williams in Richmond.

Born in New York City, Merhige attended High Point College in North Carolina and received his law degree from the University of Richmond in 1942. He served in the Army Air Forces in World War II.

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