Chapter 8 Palmore v. Sidoti

The Troubling Effects of ‘Private Biases’

In: Painting Constitutional Law

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A cloud of disapproving eyes hovers behind three figures forming a family tableau. At the center of Xavier Cortada’s painting, Linda Sidoti Palmore, a white mother, holds her young daughter, Melanie, who holds the hand of Charles Palmore, Linda’s Black husband. As Cortada writes, those eyes ‘in a sea of Caucasian skin’ reflecting the ‘racism’ that shaped a custody battle brought by Melanie’s white father. A trial court transferred custody to him because of the ‘social stigmatization’ Melanie would suffer because of her interracial home. But in Palmore v. Sidoti, the Supreme Court reversed, famously declaring that ‘private biases may be outside the reach of the law, but the law cannot, directly or indirectly, give them effect.’ Removing Melanie because of others’ ‘private prejudices.’ Cortada writes, was discriminatory and ‘wrong.’ Despite that important legal victory, however, Linda never regained custody of Melanie. The disruption to her family life caused by those judgmental eyes went unremedied as state court judges in Florida and Texas aided her ex-husband’s efforts to keep custody of Melanie.

Painting Constitutional Law

Xavier Cortada’s Images of Constitutional Rights

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