Zablocki v. Redhail

LOCATION:Milwaukee County Courthouse

DOCKET NO.: 76-879
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)

CITATION: 434 US 374 (1978)
ARGUED: Oct 04, 1977
DECIDED: Jan 18, 1978

Robert H. Blondis – argued the cause for the appellee
Ward L. Johnson, Jr. – argued the cause for the appellant

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.


Did the Wisconsin statute violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

Media for Zablocki v. Redhail

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – October 04, 1977 in Zablocki v. Redhail

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – January 18, 1978 in Zablocki v. Redhail

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the court in 76-879, Zablocki against Redhail will be announced by Mr. Justice Marshall.

Thurgood Marshall:

This case is here on appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin.

At issue is a Wisconsin statute which requires persons, subject to child support decrees, to obtain court permission before they get married.

Permission to marry can not be granted unless the applicant first submits proof of compliance with the support obligation and second demonstrates that the children will not become public charges.

Appellee, Redhail, was unable to satisfy either of these conditions with respect to an illegitimate child he had fathered when he was still in the high school.

After being denied a marriage license, he brought this class action charging the constitutionality of the statute.

The District Court held that the law had violated the Equal protection Clause of Fourteenth Amendment and enjoined its enforcement.

An opinion filed with the clerk, we affirm the judgment of the District Court.

We hold that the right to marry is of fundamental importance.

Since the classification created by the statute significantly interferes with the exercise of that right, we believe the Equal Protection Clause requires critical examination of the state interest, master the support of the law.

None of the State’s interest that have been suggested can withstand close scrutiny.

The state has numerous other names for enforcing support obligations and in many cases, such as appellee’s, the statute simply prevents people from getting married, without benefiting the children in need of support.

We therefore conclude that the statute violates the Equal Protection Clause.

The Chief Justice has filed a concurring opinion; Mr. Justice Stewart, Mr. Justice Powell and Mr. Justice Stevens have filed opinions concurring in the judgment.

Mr. Justice Rehnquist has filed a dissenting opinion.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you Mr. Justice Marshall.