The Constitution requires an opportunity granted at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner, for a hearing appropriate to the nature of the case. The formality and procedural requisites for the hearing can vary, depending upon the importance of the interests involved and the nature of the subsequent proceedings. That the hearing required by due process is subject to waiver, and is not fixed in form does not affect its root requirement that an individual be given an opportunity for a hearing before he is deprived of any significant property interest, except for extraordinary situations where some valid governmental interest is at stake that justifies postponing the hearing until after the event. In short, within the limits of practicability, a state must afford to all individuals a meaningful opportunity to be heard if it is to fulfill the promise of the Due Process Clause.
Appellants, welfare recipients residing in Connecticut, brought an action challenging requirements for payment of court fees and costs for service of process that restricted their access to the courts in an effort to bring an action for divorce. There was no dispute as to the inability of appellants to pay the court fees or costs. The district court found that a state could limit access by the requirement of fees, even when they effectively barred appellants from commencing actions therein. Appellants sought review.
Was it a violation of Due Process rights to restrict access to courts for a divorce with payments of court fees?
The Supreme Court concluded that, given the basic position of the marriage relationship in this society's hierarchy of values and the concomitant state monopolization of the means for legally dissolving this relationship, due process did prohibit a state from denying, solely because of inability to pay, access to its courts to individuals who sought judicial dissolution of their marriages. Thus, the Court held that a state could not, consistent with the obligations imposed on it by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, pre-empt the right to dissolve this legal relationship without affording all citizens access to the means it had prescribed for doing so.