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M.L.B. v. S.L.J

Citation. 519 U.S. 102, 117 S. Ct. 555, 136 L. Ed. 2d 473, 1996 U.S.
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Brief Fact Summary.

The Petitioner, M.L.B. (Petitioner), lost custody of her children and cannot afford to appeal the decision. She argues that such a fundamental right requires the State to pay for the costs of her appeal.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The loss of parental rights is the loss of a fundamental right.


The Petitioner lost custody of her two minor children when their stepmother, the Respondent, S.L.J. (Respondent), sued for adoption. The Petitioner is indigent and cannot pay record preparation fees of over $2,000 to appeal the trial court judgment.


Must the State provide for appeal of an indigent’s loss of child custody?


Yes. Reversed and remanded. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (J. Ginsburg) argues that as a petty criminal must be afforded access to appellate justice, so must the indigent parent whom the courts have found unfit. Fee requirements are not examined only for rationality when a fundamental right is involved.


Justice Clarence Thomas (J. Thomas) dissents in large part by noting the difference between criminal and civil cases. He does not view there to be an inherent right to appeal in any civil case.


While it is true that a fundamental right has been abrogated here, the dissent argues that Due Process has already been satisfied. If the Petitioner had an equal protection complaint, it would have been at the trial level. The majority gives extra protection to indigent rights, where the loss of family is concerned.

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