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Zablocki v. Redhail

    Brief Fact Summary. The Respondent, Redhail (Respondent), was denied a marriage license by the State of Wisconsin under a statute requiring a court order prior to marriage of Wisconsin residents with non-custodial minor children to whom they owe a duty of support.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Marriage is a fundamental right, which requires a compelling state interest and a sufficiently related means before the state may infringe upon it.

    Facts. The Respondent has an out-of-wedlock minor daughter, for whom he is under a court order to provide monetary support. The Respondent has been unemployed for long periods of time and at the time of the suit is over $3,700 behind in his support payments. The Respondent’s marriage license of September 27, 1974 was denied on grounds that he did not procure a court order granting explicit permission for the marriage to proceed. It is uncontested that the Respondent could not receive such an order because of statutory limitations and his arrearages in child support.

    Issue. Is the Wisconsin statute’s interference with the right to marry a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause?

    Held. Yes. Court of Appeals ruling affirmed.
    Justice Thurgood Marshall (J. Marshall) wrote for the majority. He cites precedent that marriage is a fundamental right and that the classification at issue significantly interferes with the exercise of the right. Because of this, the State must show a compelling interest in the interference and show that the means chosen to do so are sufficiently related to the interest.
    The challenged statute was originally to be a counseling device, requiring individuals with support obligations to children from previous relationships to be counseled before entering into a new marriage and perhaps incurring other support obligations. The court was then to give automatic permission for the marriage. However, this does not resemble the enacted statute.
    The statute as enacted is supposed to aid in collection of child support. In the case of individuals unable to meet the requirements, no money is given to the supported children, but the right to marry is withheld from the individual. As such, the statute does not add any new collection devices. Because of the broad infringement of the statute, the means are not sufficiently related to the government interest advanced.

    Dissent. Justice William Rehnquist (J. Rehnquist) argues that marriage is not such a fundamental right as to trigger strictest scrutiny. He rather argues for rational basis review. J. Rehnquist argues that the statute at bar passes rational basis review.
    Concurrence. Justice Potter Stewart (J. Stewart) concurred in the judgment, but believe that rather than invalidating the statute on Equal Protection grounds, the Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) should have invalidated it as an impermissible regulation of marriage that invades the sphere of liberty protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution).

    Discussion. The three opinions given illustrate that the lens through which a case is viewed may result in vastly different analysis. The majority opinion focuses on two classes: Wisconsin residents without obligations to non-custodial, dependent minor children and Wisconsin residents with support obligations toward such children. J. Stewart’s concurrence does not view the case as one of discriminatory classifications, but one of unwarranted state intrusion into private matters of citizens. J. Rehnquist argues that marriage is not a fundamental right and thus Wisconsin is not producing a discriminatory class or intruding into personal liberties.


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