Palmore v. Sidoti
466 U.S. 429 (1984)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Palmore v. Sidoti, 466 U.S. 429 (1984)

Palmore v. Sidoti

No. 82-1734

Argued February 22, 1984

Decided April 25, 1984

466 U.S. 429


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. 466 U. S. 431-434.

426 So.2d 34, reversed.

BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Page 466 U. S. 430

Primary Holding
Racial considerations cannot be the sole grounds for determining child custody.
The ex-wife of Anthony Sidoti married Palmer, an African-American man. Consequently, Sidoti sought custody of his daughter and received it from the court, which ruled that it would serve the best interests of the child. The court's reasoning was based on the notion that Sidoti's daughter would suffer from the social stigma of living in a racially mixed marriage. However, both of the Sidotis were clearly capable of raising the child.



  • Warren Earl Burger (Author)
  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr.
  • Byron Raymond White
  • Thurgood Marshall
  • Harry Andrew Blackmun
  • Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr.
  • William Hubbs Rehnquist
  • John Paul Stevens
  • Sandra Day O'Connor

Public policy does not permit courts to reach decisions that are based on private biases, such as racial discrimination. Since the mother was fit to fulfill her parenting obligations, the lower court abused its discretion in withholding custody from her.

Case Commentary

This decision was subject to the highest standard of review, strict scrutiny, since it was made overtly on the basis of a factor related to race. It would be extraordinarily unlikely for this arrangement to stand if there was no other reason for making this decision, especially since courts consider a mother's role essential in the upbringing of a child.

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