Stanley v. Illinois

PETITIONER: Peter Stanley, Sr.
LOCATION: Circuit Court of Cook County, Juvenile Division

DOCKET NO.: 70-5014
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: Supreme Court of Illinois

CITATION: 405 US 645 (1972)
ARGUED: Oct 19, 1971
DECIDED: Apr 03, 1972
GRANTED: Jan 25, 1971

Morton E. Friedman - for respondent
Patrick T. Murphy - for petitioner

Facts of the case

Joan Stanley had three children with Peter Stanley. The Stanleys never married, but lived together off and on for 18 years. When Joan died, the State of Illinois took the children. Under Illinois law, unwed fathers were presumed unfit parents regardless of their actual fitness and their children became wards of the state. Peter appealed the decision, arguing that the Illinois law violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because unwed mothers were not deprived of their children without a showing that they were actually unfit parents. The Illinois Supreme Court rejected Stanley’s Equal Protection claim, holding that his actual fitness as a parent was irrelevant because he and the children’s mother were unmarried.


Does the Illinois statutory scheme that assumes unwed fathers are unfit parents violate the Equal Protection Clause?

Media for Stanley v. Illinois

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 19, 1971 in Stanley v. Illinois

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear argument next in number 5014 Stanley against Illinois.

You may proceed Mr. Murphy.

Patrick T. Murphy:

Mr. Chief justice and may it please the Court.

For 18 years, Peter Stanley lived with his common-law-wife.

From the time his two minor children Peter Stanley, Jr. and Kimberly Stanley were born, he lived with and supported and build-up a familial relationship with these children.

Warren E. Burger:

Is there a finding here of a valid common-law marriage?

Patrick T. Murphy:

Common-law-marriage was outlawed in Illinois I believe at the turn of the century in 1905.

Warren E. Burger:

Well, then how -- how can you have a common-law marriage here?

Patrick T. Murphy:

I am using it in the generic sense of the word.

He lived with a woman for 18 years whom he called his wife.

Warren E. Burger:

Of course we are dealing with legal issues here so that colloquialism really is not very relevant, is it?

Patrick T. Murphy:

I assume not, Your Honor.

Joan Stanley died and sometime thereafter Peter Stanley asked his long time and trusted friend, the Nesses to care for his children.

Two months thereafter a dependency petition was filed in Juvenile Court of Cook County and there was a finding of dependency.

It is much as -- and the children were made wards of the Juvenile Court of Cook County.

In as much as a finding of wardship as a final order, his only way to get around this order was to appeal which he did do.

Now the issue in this case is whether -- is simply whether it is a denial of equal protection for the State of Illinois not to recognize Peter Stanley for what he was, that is the father of this two minor children and the non-neglectful father of this two minor children and whether it was a denial of equal protection for the State of Illinois who treated Peter Stanley as something less than a stranger that is giving no right to custody control or even visitation with his two minor children.

Warren E. Burger:

Was there in any occasion in that procedure that you have just described to determine paternity of the children?

Patrick T. Murphy:

No, it was assumed by the state’s attorney and by the Trial Court and by all parties that he was the father.

In fact, the assistant state’s attorney did state that there was no -- that they were contending that Peter Stanley was not the father of the two children, that never became an issue.

Of course for equal protection analysis a classification must be reasonable and not arbitrary and rest upon some ground of difference having a fair in substantial relation to the object of the legislature.

So that all persons similarly situated shall be treated a like.

Further of course, certain interests that are disadvantaged require a more strict scrutiny by this Court.

Now it is difficult for us to argue as to just what the state purpose is behind the statute, behind this discriminatory classification are.

The State and the Illinois Supreme Court argued one purpose in its brief in opposition filed in this Court argue the second purpose and its brief in this Court seem to argue yet another purpose to make the statutory scheme stand the scrutiny of this Court.

However, there seems to be a threat running through it and that is that somehow it is in the best interest of minor children that their fathers who have built up familiar relationships, but who have never married their mothers be treated as strangers to the children.

However, an analysis of Illinois Law and of the historical background in Illinois law will demonstrate, we believe that the purpose behind the discriminatory scheme in Illinois was simply for the better administration of the Illinois Adoption Act.

Now, the state alleges that the welfare of children in Illinois is promoted by the making of the illegitimate father a stranger to his child by faired out good and bad unwed fathers.

We believe that an examination of this will show that this was not the purpose of the general assembly and secondly even assuming it were that there simply is no rational relationship between this alleged purpose and the classification.

First of all it does not faired out good and bad unwed fathers.