Law School Case Brief
Orr v. Orr - 440 U.S. 268
A (state or federal) statute may be deemed unconstitutional if it is not rationally related to the legitimate state objectives which the statute is intended to accomplish.
Parties were divorced in an AL state court. The husband was ordered to pay alimony to the wife. Upon the husband's failure to pay alimony, the wife initiated contempt proceedings. The husband submitted in his defense a motion requesting that Alabama's alimony statutes be declared unconstitutional because they authorized courts to obligate husbands to pay alimony, but not wives. The trial court denied the husband's motion and entered judgment against him. Relying solely upon his federal constitutional claim, the husband appealed the judgment. The Court of Civil Appeals of Alabama sustained the constitutionality of the statutes. The Supreme Court of Alabama granted the husband's petition for a writ of certiorari, but then quashed the writ as improvidently granted. The husband appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States, which granted his application for review.
Whether AL's alimony statute, which requires husbands, but not wives, to pay alimony upon divorce, is constitutional?
No, AL's alimony statute, which requires husbands, but not wives, to pay alimony upon divorce, is unconstitutional.
In reviewing AL's alimony statutes, the Court reversed the lower courts' rulings. The Supreme Court held that in order to withstand scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause, classifications by gender had to serve important governmental objectives and be substantially related to the achievement of those objectives. The gender-based distinction in these statutes were gratuitous.
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