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Michael H. v. Gerald D.

(1989)

Supreme Court of the United States - 491 U.S. 110

tl;dr:

Tradition does not confer the right of a genetic father to have a relationship with the child.

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ICRAIssue, Conclusion, Rule, Analysis for Michael H. v. Gerald D.

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Facts & HoldingMichael H. v. Gerald D. case brief facts & holding

Facts:A CA law established a presumption that a child born...

Holding:The case was analyzed in substantive rather than procedural due...

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Michael H. v. Gerald D. | Case Brief DeepDive
Majority opinion, author: Justice Scalia
Level 1
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The case involves a California law that presumes a child born to a married woman living with her husband is the child of the marriage, which can only be rebutted by the husband or wife in limited circumstances. The California Court of Appeal upheld the constitutionality of the statute, denying permanent visitation rights to a man seeking to establish paternity of a child born to another man's wife. The California Supreme Court denied the petitions for rehearing, and the Supreme Court of the United States noted probable jurisdiction of the appeal. The conclusive presumption serves the State's policy by preventing investigations into a child's paternity that could harm the privacy and unity of the family. Therefore, Michael's procedural due process challenge is rejected, and his substantive claim is considered.

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Opinion (Concurrence), author: Justice O’Connor
Level 1
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Justice O'Connor agrees with Justice Scalia's opinion in a legal case, except for footnote 6, which proposes a historical analysis that may not align with past decisions on identifying liberty interests protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. O'Connor disagrees with imposing a single mode of historical analysis and suggests remaining open to unanticipated interpretations. She argues that the Court has sometimes characterized relevant traditions protecting asserted rights at levels of generality that may not be the most specific level available.

Opinion (Concurrence), author: Justice Stevens
Level 1
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The legal case involves two questions regarding the validity of California's statutory scheme. The first question is whether Cal. Evid. Code Ann. §621 is unconstitutional because it prevents a judicial determination of biological paternity. The court assumes that the biological father has a constitutional right to try to convince a trial judge that visitation rights would be in the child's best interest. The second question is whether the California statute denies the appellants a fair opportunity to prove that granting visitation rights to the biological father would be in the child's best interest. The court concludes that even if the biological father is conclusively presumed to be the father, the court may still grant visitation rights to "any other person having an interest in the welfare of the child" under Civil Code section 4601. However, in this case, the court decides that granting visitation rights to the biological father would not be in the best interests of the child due to the circumstances of the case.

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Opinion (Concurrence), author: Justice Brennan
Level 1
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The Supreme Court case involves a natural father's constitutional right to his relationship with a child born to a married mother. The plurality opinion, which relies on tradition, is seen as unsound constitutional decision-making. The better approach is to determine whether the specific parent-child relationship is close enough to the interests already protected to be considered an aspect of "liberty." Michael H. should prevail in this case, as he has demonstrated a full commitment to the responsibilities of parenthood by participating in the rearing of his child, Victoria D. The plurality's approach undermines the purpose of the Due Process Clause and suggests that its only purpose is to confirm the importance of interests already protected by a majority of the States, which is a mockery of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Supreme Court's plurality decision denies Michael constitutional protection as a father due to his unmarried status, despite previous cases establishing that marriage is not the sole determinant of parental rights. The statute in question stubbornly asserts that Gerald is Victoria's father, despite evidence indicating a 98 percent probability that Michael is her father. Michael seeks the opportunity to prove his paternity, which is denied by California, violating procedural due process. This case involves a conclusive presumption that terminates a constitutionally protected interest, which is a rule that the Supreme Court has condemned in previous cases.

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Dissenting opinion, author: Justice White
Level 1
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The legal issue is whether a biological father has a constitutional right to a relationship with his child, even if the child was born while the mother was married to another man. Justice White argues that the father's liberty interest cannot be denied without due process of law, and previous cases have recognized a father's liberty interest in his relationship with his child, regardless of marital status. The father in this case, Michael H., has developed a personal and emotional relationship with his daughter, contributed to her financial support, and lived with her intermittently, earning him substantial protection under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Therefore, Michael's liberty interest in his relationship with his child is entitled to protection under the Fourteenth Amendment.

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