Michael M. v. Superior Court of Sonoma County
450 U.S. 464 (1981)

  • California law (Cal. Penal Code Ann. 261.5) made it a crime to sleep with a female under 18. It did not have a similar provision for those who sleep with males under 18.
  • Michael (who was 17) slept with Sharon (who was 16). He was arrested and charged with statutory rape under 261.5.
  • Michael made a motion to dismiss on the grounds that 261.5 was an unconstitutional violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment because it made men alone criminally liable for statutory rape.
    • California argued that the law was designed to deter teen pregnancy.
  • The Trial Court denied the motion. Michael appealed.
  • The Appellate Court denied the motion. Michael appealed.
  • The California Supreme Court reversed and granted the motion. The prosecutor appealed.
  • The US Supreme Court reversed and denied the motion.
    • The US Supreme Court found that the proper standard of review for cases of gender discrimination is Intermediate Scrutiny.
      • Intermediate Scrutiny requires that there be an exceedingly persuasive justification for the classification.
    • In this case, the Court found that 261.5 met intermediate scrutiny because the goal of deterring teen pregnancy was persuasive.
      • Basically, the Court reasoned that a teen female knocked up by an adult male is liable to have more problems and cost the State more money than an adult female knocked up by a teen male would. So there was a compelling State interest in maintaining the classification.
  • In a dissent it was argued that the goal of reducing teen pregnancy was a compelling State interest, but that 261.5 was not substantially-related to the achievement of that goal.
  • In a dissent it was argued that a rule that authorizes punishment of only one of two equally guilty wrongdoers (when both lovers are under 18), violated the essence of the constitutional requirement that the sovereign must govern impartially.