Summary of Palmore v. Sidoti, 466 U.S. 429 (1984)
Facts: Following the divorce of Ms. Palmore and Mr. Sidoti (both white), the mother was initially granted custody of their 3 year old daughter. The following year the father sought a change in custody b/c mother was cohabitating with an African Am. man–chg circumstance.
The court found: no issue re: party’s devotion, adequacy of housing, or respectability of the new spouse of either, but adopted the ct counselor’s recommendations related to social consequences of an interracial marriage on the child. The best interests warranted chg in custody.
Issue(s): Whether a state court order removing custody from the natural mother as the result of her remarriage to a member of another race violates the EP Cl of the 14th?
Holding: Yes. The effects of racial prejudice cannot justify a racial classification removing a child from the custody of the natural mother otherwise found to be an appropriate person for custody.
Procedure: After a hearing, w/ testimony, Fl State Court removed custody of minor child from natural mother because she remarried a man of a different race. Fl D.Ct of App Affirmed w/o opinion (effectively denies Fl S. Ct of jurisdiction). U.S. S. Ct. Reversed.
Rationale: Florida courts did not directly address parental qualifications of either the mother or father, or their spouses. This taken with an absence of any negative finding regarding the quality of care provided by the mother refutes any claim of unfitness against the mother.
The child’s welfare is the controlling factor, but Fl’s trial ct made no effort to place its holding on any basis apart from race. Fl has the highest order to protect the interests of minor children, and its laws mandate that custody determination are made in the best interests of the child.
Certainly there is a risk that a child living with an interracial couple may be subjected to societal pressure that would not exist except for race. But, private biases and the possible injury they might inflict are not controlled by the Const, yet the Const will not tolerate them. Private biases are out of the Cts reach, but public officials, such as state ct judges, may not avoid a Const’l duty by giving way to intangible effects of private racial prejudice.