Zablocki v. Redhail, 434 U.S. 374; 98 S. Ct. 673; 54 L. Ed. 2d 618 (1978)

Facts—Redhail was a Wisconsin resident who, under a paternity statute, was unable to marry in Wisconsin or elsewhere as long as he maintained a Wisconsin residence. In January 1972, when Redhail was a minor and a high school student, he was subject to a paternity suit and a court order, in May 1972, requiring him to pay $109.00 monthly as support for the child until she reached 18 years of age. In September 1974, Redhail applied for a marriage license and Zablocki, the clerk of Milwaukee County, refused on the sole ground that Redhail had not obtained a court order granting him permission. Redhail had not satisfied his support obligations of his illegitimate child—in excess of $3,700—who had been a public charge since birth.

Question—Can Wisconsin prevent members of a certain class of residents from marrying in the state or elsewhere without first obtaining a court order?


ReasonsJ. Marshall (8–1). The Court has continuously confirmed the right to marry. The right to marry is of “fundamental importance for all individuals.” The freedom of personal choice in matters of marriage and family life is one of the liberties protected by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Not every statute that relates to marriage must be subject to rigorous scrutiny. On the contrary, reasonable regulations that do not significantly interfere with the decision to marry may legitimately be imposed. But the statutory classification here clearly does interfere directly and substantially with the right to marry. “When a statutory classification significantly interferes with the exercise of a fundamental right, it cannot be upheld unless it is supported by sufficiently important state interests and is closely tailored to effect only those interests.” The Wisconsin statute is both “grossly underinclusive” and “substantially overinclusive.”

J. Rehnquist, dissenting, would have applied the “rational basis test” providing for minimal scrutiny of such legislation and would have upheld it as “a permissible exercise of the State’s power to regulate family life and to assure the support of minor children.”

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