Monday, January 13, 2014
The United States Supreme Court in Zablocki v. Redhail (1978) held unconstitutional a Wisconsin state statute requiring judicial permission for a marriage license for any person who had a support order for a minor.
The opinion, authored by Justice Marshall, considers the case as one of equal protection and opines that
our past decisions make clear that the right to marry is of fundamental importance, and since the classification at issue here significantly interferes with the exercise of that right, we believe that "critical examination" of the state interests advanced in support of the classification is required.
The Court also states that more recent decisions "have established that the right to marry is part of the fundamental "right of privacy" implicit in the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause," citing Griswold v. Connecticut.
Thus, although not as famous as Loving v. Virginia, Zablocki v. Redhail is also frequently cited in any argument that marriage is a fundamental right, notwithstanding the Court's qualification in Zablocki that "not every state regulation which relates in any way to the incidents of or prerequisites for marriage must be subjected to rigorous scrutiny," but only ones that interfere directly and substantially with the right to marry.
In a new essay, Chronicle of a Debt Foretold: Zablocki v. Red Hail, by Tonya L. Brito, R. Kirk Anderson and Monica Wedgewood, forthcoming in The Poverty Law Canon and available on ssrn, the authors revive the importance of the wealth inequality relevance of the case and also reveal a racial aspect. Redhail, whose name is actually Roger Red Hail, is a Native American man, now in his late 50s, who still owes child support for the child he fathered when he was 16. Although the "child" is now in her 40s, he owes the money to state (with interest) and the state continues to garnish his wages.
There is a possibility that Red Hail's pending child support cases now under the jurisdiction of Milwaukee County would be transferred to the Oneida Tribal Judicial System.
The essay is a must-read for anyone considering the constitutional ramifications of equality or marriage.