Academic journal article Brigham Young University Law Review

Johnson V. Rodrigues (Orozco): An Analysis of the Constitutionality of Utah's Adoption Statutes

Academic journal article Brigham Young University Law Review

Johnson V. Rodrigues (Orozco): An Analysis of the Constitutionality of Utah's Adoption Statutes

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

Adoption statutes attempt to balance the rights and interests of adopted children, adoptive parents, birth mothers, birth fathers, and the states' interests in providing safe and secure homes for children. However, not all involved parties may feel that their interests are properly protected. For example, in Johnson v. Rodrigues (Orozco),1 the unwed, putative (i.e. supposed) father of a child placed for adoption challenged the constitutionality of Utah's adoption statutes, claiming that they violated due process. Under Utah law, an unwed father's parental rights are only recognized if he registers with the Department of Health before an unwed mother consents to the adoption of an infant or relinquishes an infant to an adoption agency.2 If an unwed father fails to register in a timely manner, he loses his right to notice and consent in an infant adoption proceeding.3

In Johnson v. Rodrigues (Orozco), the district court dismissed Johnson's claim based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction.4 However, on August 28, 2000, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court's dismissal of Johnson's claim and allowed, for the first time, the constitutionality of Utah's adoption statutes to be challenged in federal court.5 The issue of whether federal court is the proper forum for determining the constitutionality of Utah's adoption statutes is very controversial and important; however, this Note focuses only on the issue of the constitutionality of the statutes. This Note finds Utah's adoption statutes facially constitutional with respect to both due process and equal protection rights but recognizes that the statutes may violate due process as applied in certain cases. In order to avoid unconstitutionality as applied in such cases,

this Note proposes that the Utah State Legislature revise Utah's Adoption Statutes to include a proposed "fraudulent misrepresentation" exception.

Part II of this Note provides a brief overview of Utah's adoption statutes. Part III sets forth the facts of Johnson v. Rodrigues (Orozco) and briefly discusses the significance of the Tenth Circuit's decision to hear Johnson's constitutionality claim in federal court. Part IV analyzes the constitutionality of Utah's adoption statutes in terms of due process and equal protection rights based on case law from the United States Supreme Court and from Utah state courts. Part IV also sets forth public policies that support Utah's adoption statutes and proposes an exception to them that will enable the statutes to be constitutional both facially and as applied. Part V concludes that the federal court should find Utah's adoption statutes facially constitutional but also concludes that the Utah State Legislature should adopt this Note's proposed exception so that the statutes will be able to withstand future constitutional attacks both facially and as applied.

II. BAcKGROUND

In the early 1990s, the story of "Baby Jessica"6 had a profound effect on adoption laws throughout the United States. In 1991, a twenty-eight-year-old unwed mother in Iowa, Cara Clausen, gave birth to Baby Jessica. Having broken up with the baby's biological father, Daniel Schmidt, Cara lied about the identity of Baby Jessica's father and placed her for adoption with a couple from Michigan.7 When Cara reunited with Daniel, she sought to revoke her consent to the adoption, and Daniel sought to intervene in the adoption proceedings on the basis that he never consented to Baby Jessica's adoption.8 Despite the fact that the adoptive couple "provided exemplary care for the child [and] view[ed] themselves as the parents of [the] child in every respect,"9 the courts were bound to apply Iowa law as it existed.10 Thus, after two and a half years, Baby Jessica was taken

from the only parents she knew and given to her biological father, a man whom she had never seen before.

In response to this story, many states changed their adoption laws to make adoption more secure and permanent. …

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