Sosna v. Iowa 419 U.S. 393 (1975)

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SOSNA v. IOWA 419 U.S. 393 (1975)

Iowa limited access to its divorce court to persons who had resided in the state for one year. Sosna, denied a divorce under this law, brought suit in a federal court challenging the one-year limitation's constitutionality. By the time her case reached the Supreme Court, the year had passed. Because the case had been properly certified as a class action, however, the Court rejected the state's invitation to dismiss the action for mootness. On the merits, a six-Justice majority, speaking through Justice william h. rehnquist, upheld the statute.

Justice Rehnquist breathed no word concerning "penalties" on the exercise of the right to travel interstate. Instead, he merely noted that previous decisions had struck down durational residence requirements only when they were justified entirely on the basis of budgetary or record-keeping considerations. Here, he said, the state had an interest in protecting the rights of defendant spouses and of any minor children. Further, the state might wish to avoid "officious intermeddling" in another state's primary concerns and to protect its own divorce decrees against collateral attack."A state such as Iowa may quite reasonably decide that it does not wish to become a divorce mill." In any event, an Iowa plaintiff was merely delayed in getting a divorce, not denied one altogether.

Justice byron r. white dissented, arguing that the case was moot. Justice thurgood marshall dissented on the merits, joined by Justice william j. brennan. The Court's analysis did not subject this penalty on exercise of the right to travel to the strict scrutiny it deserved but improperly employed a functional equivalent of the rational basis standard of review. Iowa's most important interest, protecting the integrity of its decrees, could be achieved by the less restrictive means of merely requiring a divorce plaintiff to be domiciled in the state. And the delaydenial distinction was false; a plaintiff would be denied marital freedom (and the freedom to remarry) during an entire year.

Kenneth L. Karst