Chapter 8: Palmore v. Sidoti
The Troubling Effects of ‘Private Biases’
Palmore v. Sidoti, 466 U.S. 429 (1984)
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.
“Eyes are a central motif in Xavier Cortada’s artistic portrayal of Palmore v. Sidoti, and appropriately so. The disembodied and disapproving eyes, in (as Cortada puts it) ‘a sea of Caucasian skin,’ surround the three figures forming a family tableau at the center of the painting […] Has the weather changed for multi-racial families – and perceptions of them – since the cloud of disapproving eyes depicted in Xavier Cortada’s portrait?”
ABOUT CHAPTER AUTHOR
Linda C. McClain is Professor of Law and the Paul M. Siskind Research Scholar at Boston University. She holds a J.D. from Georgetown University and an LL.M. from nyu, and has held fellowships at Harvard and Princeton Universities. She is the author or co-author of numerous books and articles on family, gender, and law, including The Place of Families: Fostering Capacity, Equality, and Responsibility (2006).
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Xavier Cortada is Professor of Practice at the University of Miami Department of Art and Art History. He grew up in Miami and holds degrees from the University of Miami College of Arts and Sciences, School of Law, and Graduate School of Business. His work merges art with other disciplines, including law, science, and politics.