Brief Fact Summary. The Petitioners, Boddie and others (Petitioners), brought suit against the Respondent, Connecticut’s (Respondents) divorce policies, which on average cost $60 per litigant. The Petitioners represent married indigents who cannot afford a divorce.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. If marriage is a fundamental right available to all citizens, divorce must be available to all citizens as well.
Issue. Does discriminating against indigents in applying for divorce violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution)?
Held. Yes. Appeals Court ruling reversed.
Justice John Marshall Harlan (J. Harlan) notes that since marriage is a fundamental right in our society the government must show a compelling interest to discriminate in the application of. Conversely, if marriage is a fundamental right totally controlled by the State, divorce must be in the same category.
Requiring payment of fees to apply for divorce creates two classes of individuals: those who can pay the fee and those who cannot. The State cannot offer a compelling interest to maintain this distinction. As such, the requirements are unconstitutional.
Dissent. Justice Hugo Black (J. Black) argues that because of the state-controlled nature of marriage, unless there is a specific constitutional prohibition against it, the State of Connecticut may do as it pleases.
Discussion. The majority says that a fundamental right cannot be denied to people on the basis of wealth. The dissent says that when a power is delegated to the States, there must be a specific constitutional provision to allow the Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) to rule a given statute unconstitutional.