New Scholarship on Zablocki v. Red Hail

Tonya L. Brito, Raymond Kirk Anderson, and Monica Ashley Wedgewood have posted “Chronicle of a Debt Foretold: Zablocki v. Red Hail, 434 U.S. 374 (1978),” on SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Zablocki v. Red Hail is a canonical case in family law jurisprudence. One of the few Supreme Court decisions addressing the fundamental right to marry, the case involves a successful challenge to Wisconsin’s “permission to marry” statute. However, the conventional understanding of the case addresses only part of the story. The narrative threads uncovered as part of this oral history research study reveal a more multifaceted and complicated story than has been previously appreciated. The story behind Zablocki v. Red Hail spans the 1970s in Milwaukee, a period of great inequality and dynamic social change. It also engages the American Indian experience in the United States, particularly the experience of urban Indians who have been uprooted from their native lands and disconnected from their heritage and history. Finally, although Zablocki v. Red Hail was a significant constitutional victory, the ruling did not secure justice for Roger Red Hail because the pursuit of a rights-based claim left standing an economically unjust (and apparently unending) child support order.

Highly recommended!

One thought on “New Scholarship on Zablocki v. Red Hail

  1. John J. Lemire December 30, 2013 / 11:27 am

    Thank you for the Red Hail post–as a long time Family Court Referee in Michigan and an enrolled Minnesota Chippewa, I found the case interesting on several levels. I found the urban Indian background apt, because I grew up that way, and the Family law aspect relevant to my professional life. As I began my legal career in Family Court in the seventies, it was not unusual for the agencies to handle cases in a tomahawk fashion—your kid was on welfare, and your not paying the first dollar in support—off to jail under contempt of Court you dead beat!
    Michigan never had such a law denying (re)marriage, but you bet a Court would look at a remarried (usually) man and wonder how he takes on a marriage, and has these other obligations—don’t forget the Court must consider both parties to a case, the defendant, and the child or the state which is supporting that child. As such, the rationale for such a law was evident, especially having been enacted after input from various professional sources.
    Since the seventies, the Federal government has gotten involved in many areas of family law, particularly child support. When dependent children are receiving funds through welfare programs wholly or partially funded by the feds, mandates to the states arise, and even make it profitable for the state to enforce same. Michigan received a “bounty” for collecting support!!
    All that being said, the constitutional issue was clear and certainly decided correctly.
    But please don’t hail Red Hail!! The description of his behavior is also clear. It was a fact situation repeated thousands of times over my career. There is always room for empathy and understanding, and our laws have softened over the years (in Michigan non support would land you in jail for up to one year during the seventies, but was modified to up to thirty days for a first offense, all under contempt of Court). But remember this truism—no one likes to pay child support!! True now, true then—–!!

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