Michael M. v. Superior Court 450 U.S. 464 (1981)

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MICHAEL M. v. SUPERIOR COURT 450 U.S. 464 (1981)

A boy of 17 was convicted of rape under a California statute making it a crime for a male to have intercourse with a female under 18; the girl's age was 16. A fragmented Supreme Court voted 5–4 to uphold the conviction against the contention that the statute's sex discrimination—the same act was criminal for a male but not for a female—denied the equal protection of the laws.

There was no opinion for the Court. The majority Justices, however, agreed in accepting the California Supreme Court's justification for the law: prevention of illegitimate teen-age pregnancies. The risk of pregnancy itself, said Justice william h. rehnquist, served to deter young females from sexual encounters; criminal sanctions on young males only would roughly "equalize" deterrents.

The dissenters argued that California had not demonstrated its law to be a deterrent; thirty-seven states had adopted gender-neutral statutory rape laws, no doubt on the theory that such laws would provide even more deterrent, by doubling the number of persons subject to arrest. When both parties to an act are equally guilty, argued Justice john paul stevens, to make the male guilty of a felony while allowing the female to go free is supported by little more than "traditional attitudes toward male-female relations."

Kenneth L. Karst

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Michael M. v. Superior Court 450 U.S. 464 (1981)

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