Michael M. v. Superior Court of Sonoma County

PETITIONER: Michael M.
RESPONDENT: Superior Court of Sonoma County
LOCATION: Railroad tracks

DOCKET NO.: 79-1344
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: Supreme Court of California

CITATION: 450 US 464 (1981)
ARGUED: Nov 04, 1980
DECIDED: Mar 23, 1981

ADVOCATES:
Gregory F. Jilka - on behalf of the Petitioner;
Sandy R. Kriegler - on behalf of the Respondents

Facts of the case

Michael M., a 17 and 1/2 year-old male, was found guilty of violating California's "statutory rape" law. The law defined unlawful sexual intercourse as "an act of sexual intercourse accomplished with a female not the wife of the perpetrator, where the female is under the age of 18 years." The statute thus made men alone criminally liable for such conduct. Michael M. challenged the constitutionality of the law.

Question

Did California's statutory rape law unconstitutionally discriminate on the basis of gender?

Media for Michael M. v. Superior Court of Sonoma County

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 04, 1980 in Michael M. v. Superior Court of Sonoma County

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - March 23, 1981 in Michael M. v. Superior Court of Sonoma County

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment of the Court in Number 79-1344, Michael M. against the Superior Court will be announced by Mr. Justice Rehnquist.

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion I announce is only that of a plurality of the Court but the judgment is that of a majority.

Petitioner was charged with violating California's statutory rape law.

That law makes it a crime for a man to have sexual intercourse with a woman who is not his wife and is under the age of 18 years.

Petitioner argued that the statute which punishes only men for the act of sexual intercourse violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution because it's unlawfully discriminated on the basis of sex.

The California Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the statute by a divided vote.

It reasoned that the statute was a permissible attempt due to teenage pregnancy.

We agree and affirm the decision of the California Supreme Court.

Not all laws which draw distinctions on the basis of sex are unconstitutional.

The California statutory rape law is designed to protect young women from the harmful effects of consequences of teenage pregnancy by prohibiting males from having sexual intercourse with young females.

We reject petitioner's contention that the constitution requires a State to make young woman as criminally liable as young men for the same conduct.

Women suffered disproportionally the consequences of teenage pregnancy and the State may constitutionally punish only males because they suffer few of the consequences of the -- of their acts.

Accordingly, the decision of the California Supreme Court is affirmed.

Justice Stewart, while joining this plurality opinion, he has filed a separate concurring opinion.

Justice Blackmun has filed an opinion in which he concurs in the judgment reached by the Court.

Justice Brennan has filed a dissenting in which Justices White and Marshall have joined.

Justice Stevens has also filed a dissenting opinion.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you, Mr. Justice Rehnquist.