ZABLOCKI V. REDHAIL, 434 U. S. 374 (1978)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Zablocki v. Redhail, 434 U.S. 374 (1978)

Zablocki v. Redhail

No. 76-879

Argued October 4, 1977

Decided January 18, 1978

434 U.S. 374


Wisconsin statute providing that any resident of that State "having minor issue not in his custody and which he is under obligation to support by any court order or judgment" may not marry without a court approval order, which cannot be granted absent a showing that the support obligation has been met and that children covered by the support order "are not then and are not likely thereafter to become public charges," held to violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 434 U. S. 383-391.

(a) Since the right to marry is of fundamental importance, e.g., Loving v. Virginia, 388 U. S. 1, and the statutory classification involved here significantly interferes with the exercise of that right, "critical examination" of the state interests advanced in support of the classification is required. Massachusetts Board of Retirement v. Murgia, 427 U. S. 307, 427 U. S. 312, 314. Pp. 383-387.

(b) The state interests assertedly served by the challenged statute unnecessarily impinge on the right to marry. If the statute is designed to furnish an opportunity to counsel persons with prior child support obligations before further such obligations are incurred, it neither expressly requires counseling nor provides for automatic approval after counseling is completed. The statute cannot be justified as encouraging an applicant to support his children. By the proceeding, the State, which already possesses numerous other means for exacting compliance with support obligations, merely prevents the applicant from getting married, without ensuring support of the applicant's prior children. Though it is suggested that the statute protects the ability of marriage applicants to meet prior support obligations before new ones are incurred, the statute is both underinclusive (as it does not limit new financial commitments other than those arising out of the contemplated marriage) and overinclusive (since the new spouse may better the applicant's financial situation). Pp. 434 U. S. 388-390.

418 F.Supp. 1061, affirmed.

Page 434 U. S. 375

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and BRENNAN, WHITE, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined. BURGER, C.J.,filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 434 U. S. 391. STEWART, J., post, p. 434 U. S. 391 POWELL, J., post, p. 434 U. S. 396, and STEVENS, J., post, p. 434 U. S. 403, filed opinions concurring in the judgment. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 434 U. S. 407.

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