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