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M. L. B. v. S. L. J. 519 U.S. 102 (1996)

M. L. B. v. S. L. J. 519 U.S. 102 (1996)

A Mississippi trial court terminated M. L. B.'s parental rights to two minor children. When she sought to appeal, the state insisted on advance payment of some $2,300 in fees for preparation of the trial record; because she lacked the money to pay the fees, her appeal was dismissed. The Supreme Court held, 6–3, that conditioning appeal from a trial court termination of parental rights on a parent's ability to pay violated the due process and equal protection clauses of the fourteenth amendment.

Writing for the Court, Justice ruth bader ginsburg recognized that previous decisions had not extended the rule of griffin v. illinois (1957) to guarantee access to the courts in all civil cases. She noted, however, that in cases "involving controls or intrusions on family relationships" the Court had been more receptive to both due process and equal protection claims. Mississippi's policy was not an ordinary refusal to subsidize the exercise of a constitutional right. Here, by analogy to a criminal case, M. L. B. sought "to be spared from the State's devastatingly adverse action." Justice anthony m. kennedy, concurring, would have placed the decision solely on due process grounds.

Dissenting, Justice clarence thomas relied on the argument of the second Justice john marshall harlan in his dissent in Griffin: that due process did not require an appeal, and that equal protection was not violated by a state's failure to make up for an indigent's ability to pay for a service necessary to secure an appeal. Chief Justice william h. rehnquist and Justice antonin scalia joined in this part of the dissent. Thomas, joined only by Scalia, also said he would be inclined to overruleGriffin.

Kenneth L. Karst
(2000)

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