Zablocki v. Redhail Case Brief

Facts of the case

Roger C. Redhail, a Wisconsin minor, fathered a child. A court ordered him to pay child support. Two years later, he applied for a marriage license in Milwaukee County. His application was denied by County Clerk Thomas E. Zablocki who declined to issue the license under a state statute on the ground that Redhail owed more than $3,700 in child support.. Redhail filed a class action in federal district court against Zablocki and all Wisconsin county clerks. The court ruled in Redhail’s favor. Zablocki appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

Why is the case important?

A Wisconsin Statute forced individuals to receive court permission in order to marry if they have a minor issue not in their custody which they are obligated to pay support for. Appellant was unable to receive court permission under the statute and brought suit on behalf of all residents similarly situated.


Is a Wisconsin statute that provides that members of a certain class of residents cannot marry, within the State or elsewhere, without first obtaining a court order granting permission to marry constitutional?


Justice Thurgood Marshall (J. Marshall). Yes. “When a statutory classification significantly interferes with the exercise of a fundamental right, [such as the fundamental right of marriage], it cannot be upheld unless it is supported by sufficiently important state interests and is closely tailored to effectuate only those interests . . . .” The Wisconsin statute “clearly does interfere directly and substantially with the right to marry” and fails to pass strict scrutiny. The statute requires a marriage by court order, imposes a criminal violation on those not meeting the requirements of the statute and prevents those from gaining a marriage license because they lack the financial resources to pay outstanding child support or cannot prove that their children will be public charges. The state’s goals of having an opportunity to counsel marriage applicants on the importance of paying back child support and protecting the welfare of out-of-custody children through “imping[ing] on
the right to marry” cannot be supported by the Constitution. Therefore, the judgment is affirmed.


The Court held that the statute violated equal protection in that it directly and substantially interfered with the fundamental right to marry without being closely tailored to effectuate the state’s interests. The Court noted that other future financial obligations were not curtailed, only those that might be associated with marriage, and further found that the effect of the statute was that more children would be born outside of marriage.

  • Advocates: Ward L. Johnson, Jr. argued the cause for the appellant Robert H. Blondis argued the cause for the appellee
  • Appellant: Zablocki
  • Appellee: Redhail
  • DECIDED BY:Burger Court
  • Location: Milwaukee County Courthouse
Citation: 434 US 374 (1978)
Argued: Oct 4, 1977
Decided: Jan 18, 1978
Zablocki v. Redhail Case Brief