Stanley v. Illinois - 405 U.S. 645 (1972)
U.S. Supreme Court
Stanley v. Illinois, 405 U.S. 645 (1972)
Stanley v. Illinois
Argued October 19, 1971
Decided April 3, 1972
405 U.S. 645
Petitioner, an unwed father whose children, on the mother's death, were declared state wards and placed in guardianship, attacked the Illinois statutory scheme as violative of equal protection. Under that scheme, the children of unmarried fathers, upon the death of the mother, are declared dependents without any hearing on parental fitness and without proof of neglect, though such hearing and proof are required before the State assumes custody of children of married or divorced parents and unmarried mothers. The Illinois Supreme Court, holding that petitioner could properly be separated from his children upon mere proof that he and the dead mother had not been married and that petitioner's fitness as a father was irrelevant, rejected petitioner's claim.
1. Under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment petitioner was entitled to a hearing on his fitness as a parent before his children were taken from him. Pp. 405 U. S. 647-658.
(a) The fact that petitioner can apply for adoption or for custody and control of his children does not bar his attack on the dependency proceeding. Pp. 405 U. S. 647-649.
(b) The State cannot, consistently with due process requirements, merely presume that unmarried fathers in general, and petitioner, in particular, are unsuitable and neglectful parents. Parental unfitness must be established on the basis of individualized proof. See Bell v. Burson, 402 U. S. 535. Pp. 405 U. S. 649-658.
2. The denial to unwed fathers of the hearing on fitness accorded to all other parents whose custody of their children is challenged by the State constitutes a denial of equal protection of the laws. P. 405 U. S. 658.
45 Ill.2d 132, 256 N.E.2d 814, reversed and remanded.
WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, STEWART, and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, and in Parts I and II of which DOUGLAS, J., joined. BURGER, C.J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BLACKMUN, J., joined, post, p. 405 U. S. 659. POWELL and REHNQUIST, JJ., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.