Law School Case Brief
Collier v. Fox - No. CV 15-83-BLG-SPW-TJC, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 39261 (D. Mont. Feb. 22, 2018)
The question of whether state statutes prohibiting polygamy violate the United States Constitution was answered over a century ago in Reynolds v. U.S., 98 U.S. 145, 25 L. Ed. 244 (1878). Reynolds included a constitutional challenge to a federal statute that prohibited bigamy in a territory or other place within the exclusive jurisdiction of the United States. The Supreme Court upheld the validity of that statute, finding "there cannot be a doubt that, unless restricted by some form of constitution, it is within the legitimate scope of the power of every civil government to determine whether polygamy or monogamy shall be the law of social life under its dominion."
Nathan and Vicki were legally married in Dillon, South Carolina. However, Nathan was also in a committed romantic relationship with Christine, and they desire to legally marry. Vicki and Christine were aware of Nathan's relationship with one another, and each consented to be married to Nathan simultaneously. Nathan and Christine went to the Yellowstone County Clerk of District Court Marriage License Division to apply for a marriage license where the application was denied. The Yellowstone County Attorney's office subsequently sent a letter (Denial Letter) to the Colliers on July 14, 2015, formally denying the request for a marriage license. The Denial Letter informed the Colliers that their request for a marriage license could not be granted because granting the license would placed Nathan, Vicki and Christine in violation of Montana law, which criminalized entering into multiple marriages, and marrying a person knowing that the person is married to another. The Colliers responded by bringing this action, challenging the validity of what they characterize as Montana's anti-polygamy statutes. The Colliers filed a motion for summary judgment, generally arguing that Montana's criminal and civil anti-polygamy statutes are unconstitutional and violate their First and Fourteenth Amendments rights. The State responded that the constitutionality of state anti-polygamy statutes was established in Reynolds v. United States.
Were the Montana criminal and civil anti-polygamy statutes constitutional?
The Supreme Court upheld the validity of that statute, finding "there cannot be a doubt that, unless restricted by some form of constitution, it is within the legitimate scope of the power of every civil government to determine whether polygamy or monogamy shall be the law of social life under its dominion." The Court recommended that summary judgment be granted in favor of the government.
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