Palmore v. Sidoti
466 U.S. 429, 104 S.Ct. 1879, 80 L.Ed.2d 421 (1984)

  • Linda and Anthony were married and had a child (Melanie). Then they got a divorce.
    • Linda was awarded custody of their child.
  • Linda got remarried to a person of another race (scandalous!). Anthony petitioned the court to give him custody of the child, based on the change in circumstances.
    • Anthony argued that Linda was not properly caring for the child, wink wink…
  • The Trial Court awarded custody to Anthony. Linda appealed.
    • The Trial Court made no findings with respect to Anthony’s claims about Linda’s lack of care.
    • The Court found that “there is no issue as to either party’s devotion to the child, adequacy of housing facilities, or respectability of the new spouse of either parent.”
    • However, the Court found that “despite the strides that have been made in bettering relations between the races in this country, it is inevitable that Melanie will, if allowed to remain in her present situation, suffer from the social stigmatization that is sure to come.”
  • The Appellate Court affirmed. Linda appealed.
  • The Florida Supreme Court declined grant cert. Linda appealed.
  • The US Supreme Court reversed.
    • The US Supreme Court found that making custody decisions on the basis of race was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause.
      • The Court noted that there may be private prejudices. But, the Constitution cannot control those prejudices but neither can it tolerate them.
      • “Public officials sworn to uphold the Constitution may not avoid a constitutional duty by bowing to the hypothetical effects of private racial prejudice that they assume to be both widely and deeply held.”
    • The Court noted that custody determinations can only be made on the basis of conduct, not conjecture. The courts can’t just assume that there will be a detriment to the child, they have to actually look at what is really happening.
  • Btw, After the US Supreme Court decision, Anthony took the girl away to Texas. The Florida Trial Court found that they no longer had jurisdiction over the child. By the time the case would have gotten through the Texas court system they would have likely found that the best interests of the child were to stay in Texas, since that’s where she was used to living.
    • So sometimes, even if you win a custody battle, if it takes too long you can still be denied custody.