Summary of MICHAEL M. v. SUPERIOR COURT OF SONOMA CO. Supreme Court 1981
FACTS: CA enacted a statutory rape law that defines unlawful sexual intercourse as “an act of sexual intercourse accomplished with a female not the wife of the perpetrator, where the female isunder the age of 18 years.” The statute thus makes men alone criminally liable for sex.
ISSUE: Whether CA’s “statutory rape” law violates the Equal Protection Clause o the Fourteenth Amendment.
HOLDING: The justification for the statute offered by the State and accepted by the SC of CA is that the legislature sought to prevent illegitimate teenage pregnancies. We are satisfied that the prevention of pregnancy is at least one of the purposes of the statute, but also that the state has a strong interest in preventing such pregnancy. 1/2 end in abortion and the children who are born are likely candidates to become wards o the state. Only women may become pregnant and they suffer disproportionately the consequences of sexual activity. The problem is clear, but may the legislature attack it by prohibiting a male from having sex with a minor female. We hold that such a state is sufficiently related to the state’s objectives to pass constitutional muster.
DISSENT: Too much emphasis on the state’s goal and not enough on the emphasis of whether this is sex-based discrimination. Ca still has the burden of proving that even if they have a legitimate objective – that there are fewer teenage pregnancies under its gender based statutory rape law than there would be if the law were gender neutral. There are now at least 37 states that have enacted neutral rape laws.
Provision that applies to only half of the joint participants in the risk-creating conduct is not valid. Any justification would be preempted by the paramount interest in evenhanded enforcement of the law.