Nonmarital Children

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Beginning with Mills v. Hableutzel (1982), the Supreme Court invalidated a series of laws that sharply limited the time during which a paternity suit might be brought to secure child support from the father of a child born outside marriage. In Mills, a Texas law imposed a limitation of one year from the birth of the child; the state imposed no limit on the time in which such a suit could be brought against the father of a child born within marriage. The Court was unanimous in striking down the law, and five Justices added their view that even a longer limitations period might be invalid. In Pickett v. Brown (1983) the Court was again unanimous; a two-year limitation imposed by Tennessee was held invalid. These two opinions did little to clear up the confusion in the Court's earlier discussions of the appropriate standard of review in cases involving nonmarital children.

inClark v. Jeter (1988), however, the Court—again unanimously—held invalid Pennsylvania's six-year limitation period for such a lawsuit. Now Justice sandra day o'connor wrote for the Court, explicitly holding that discrimination based on " illegitimacy " must survive the intermediate scrutiny that the Court had been using in cases of sex discrimination. Perhaps the most remarkable feature of this series of decisions is that Justice william h. rehnquist (by 1988, Chief Justice) joined in the move to heighten judicial scrutiny, a step he had refused to take in earlier times. Some commentators have detected a move to the center of the Court on the part of the Chief Justice in these cases. His concurrence in the result of the sex discrimination case of united states v. virginia (1996) similarly embraces the intermediate scrutiny standard he had resisted during its formative years.

Kenneth L. Karst

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