Stanley v. Illinois
405 U.S. 645 (1972)

  • Joan and Peter lived together and had three kids, but weren’t married. Joan died.
  • Under Illinois law, the children of unwed fathers became wards of the State upon the death of the mother. So they took Peter’s kids away from him.
  • Peter sued, arguing that the removal was an unconstitutional violation of due process and his fundamental right to custody of his children.
    • Peter also argued that this was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause because married fathers and unwed mothers were allowed to keep their kids.
    • Peter had never been shown to be an unfit parent.
  • The Illinois Supreme Court found there was no constitutional violation. Peter appealed.
    • The Illinois Supreme Court found that there is a general presumption that unwed fathers are unfit, and therefore Peter’s specific fitness was irrelevant.
  • The US Supreme Court reversed.
    • The US Supreme Court found that the only benefit to the State in not providing due process was to save money (aka administrative convenience).
    • The Court found that Peter had a due process right to establish his fitness in court.
      • “Procedure by presumption is always cheaper and easier than individualized determination. But when, as here, the procedure forecloses the determinative issues of competence and care, it needlessly risks running roughshod over the important interests of both parent and child.”