• Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court ruled that Alabama’s law making husbands, but not wives, liable for alimony payments was a violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

In Craig v. Boren[case]Craig v. Boren[Craig v. Boren] (1976), the Court had announced that it would henceforth evaluate gender classifications according to a heightened scrutinyJudicial scrutiny standard. The Orr decision was an early application of this standard. When William and Lillian Orr were divorced, William Orr was ordered to make alimony payments to his former wife. He argued that the state’s differential requirements for men and women were discriminatory. The state responded that the law was justified by two important goals: providing for needy ex-wives and compensating them for the economic discrimination produced by the traditional marital role.Gender issues;Orr v. Orr[Orr v. Orr]Standing;Orr v. Orr[Orr v. Orr]

Speaking for a 6-3 majority, Justice William J. Brennan, Jr.Brennan, William J., Jr.;Orr v. Orr[Orr v. Orr], ruled that the law was not “substantially related” to the state’s legitimate objectives. Because alimony awards were based on individual circumstances, a gender-neutral law would give just as much help to needy ex-wives. Likewise, statutes designed to compensate for past discrimination must be “carefully tailored” not to discriminate unnecessarily and not to reinforce traditional “stereotypes about the ’proper place’ of women and their need for special protection.” The three dissenting justices argued that William Orr lacked standing to sue because a law based entirely on need would not have changed his financial obligations.

Equal protection clause

Gender issues

Judicial scrutiny

Reed v. Reed

Standing

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