Palmore v. Sidoti
When petitioner and respondent, both Caucasians, were divorced in Florida, petitioner, the mother, was awarded custody of their 3-year-old daughter. The following year respondent sought custody of the child by filing a petition to modify the prior judgment because of changed conditions, namely, that petitioner was then cohabiting with a Negro, whom she later married. The Florida trial court awarded custody to respondent, concluding that the child's best interests would be served thereby. Without focusing directly on the parental qualifications of petitioner, her present husband, or respondent, the court reasoned that although respondent's resentment at petitioner's choice of a black partner was insufficient to deprive petitioner of custody, there would be a damaging impact on the child if she remained in a racially mixed household. The Florida District Court of Appeal affirmed.
Held: The effects of racial prejudice, however real, cannot justify a racial classification removing an infant child from the custody of its natural mother. The Constitution cannot control such prejudice, but neither can it tolerate it. Private biases may be outside the reach of the law, but the law cannot, directly or indirectly, give them effect. Pp. 431-434.
426 So.2d 34, reversed.
Burger, C. J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.
Robert J. Shapiro argued the cause and filed a brief for petitioners.
John E. Hawtrey argued the cause and filed a brief for respondent.[*]
^ . Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed for the United States by Solicitor General Lee, Assistant Attorney General Reynolds, Deputy Solicitor General Wallace, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Cooper, Kathryn A. Oberly, and Brian K. Landsberg; for the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation et al. by Burt Neuborne, William D. Zabel, Marcia Robinson Lowry, Thomas I. Atkins, Ira G. Greenberg, and Samuel Rabinove; for Leigh Earls et al. by Jay L. Carlson, James P. Tuite, Roderic V. O. Boggs, James D. Weill, Justin J. Finger, Jeffrey P. Sinensky, Leslie K. Shedlin, and Marc D. Stern; and for the Women's Legal Defense Fund et al. by Sally Katzen, Lynn Bregman, and Nancy Polikoff.