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In Re Roger B.





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. JOSEPH SCHNEIDER, Judge, presiding.


Petitioner, Roger B., appeals from an order of the circuit court of Cook County dismissing his amended petition to open sealed birth and adoption records. He raises several constitutional questions concerning the validity of the Illinois statute which places adoption records and original birth documents under seal. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 40, par. 1522.) The pertinent facts are as follows.

Four adoptees filed petitions to review their sealed birth records. The trial court ruled that under the Illinois statute an adoptee could view original birth and adoption records only upon a showing of good cause. Petitioner filed an amended petition alleging that adulthood was of itself good cause and that the Illinois statutory scheme sealing adoption and original birth records from adult adoptees was unconstitutional. Neither side disputes the trial court's finding that good cause is required to release adoption and birth records to an adoptee.

At the hearing, petitioner testified that he has been searching for his biological family and was aware that his natural mother had inquired about him approximately one year after his adoption. He did not believe that he would be rejected by his natural parents, and he would leave them alone if they did not wish to see him. Petitioner regarded himself as emotionally stable and financially comfortable. His search was premised simply upon his desire to seek people related to him by blood.

Petitioner's adoptive mother testified that she generally supported the petitioner and his search efforts. Petitioner's sister, also an adoptee, testified that her search for her biological family had been successful. She currently enjoyed relationships with both her natural and adopted families.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the trial court ruled that petitioner's adult status was insufficient to demonstrate good cause. Accordingly, the court denied petitioner's request.

On appeal, petitioner contends that the Illinois statute violates his right to receive important information and his right to privacy; that his due process rights were violated; that he was denied equal protection of the laws; that the statute is violative of the ninth amendment; and that the trial court erred in not determining adulthood was of itself good cause to view original birth and adoption records.

Petitioner initially contends that the Illinois adoption statute violates his right to receive important information. While the Constitution protects the right to receive information and ideas (Virginia State Board of Pharmacy v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, Inc. (1976), 425 U.S. 748, 48 L.Ed.2d 346, 96 S.Ct. 1817; Kleindienst v. Mandel (1972), 408 U.S. 753, 33 L.Ed.2d 683, 92 S.Ct. 2576), the first amendment does not guarantee a constitutional right of special access to information not available to the public generally (Branzburg v. Hayes (1972), 408 U.S. 665, 33 L.Ed.2d 626, 92 S.Ct. 2646; Zemel v. Rusk (1965), 381 U.S. 1, 14 L.Ed.2d 179, 85 S.Ct. 1271). The right to receive information presupposes a willing speaker. Virginia State Board of Pharmacy v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, Inc.

• 1 The right to receive information does not require the unwilling disclosure of nonpublic records simply because the adoptee desires its release. Nor can we consider the adoptee's right to receive information absolute to the exclusion of the rights of others affected by disclosure. (Alma Society, Inc. v. Mellon (S.D.N.Y. 1978), 459 F. Supp. 912; Mills v. Atlantic City Department of Vital Statistics (1977), 148 N.J. Super. 302, 372 A.2d 646.) The information sought by petitioner is a product of the judicial process. (In re Maples (Mo. 1978), 563 S.W.2d 760.) The confidentiality of adoption records serves several purposes. By providing a statutory assurance of anonymity to the adoptee's natural parents, confidentiality encourages the surrender of children for adoption and serves to protect the natural parents from public disclosure of a traumatic emotional event and the possible intrusion into their private life by the reappearance of a child given up years before. (In re Adoption of Female Infant (1979), 5 Fam. L. Rep. 2311; In re Maples.) It also serves to protect the adoptive parent from interference by the natural parents in raising the child and facilitates the formation of an integrated family unit. (In re Christine (R.I. 1979), 397 A.2d 511; In re Adoption of Spinks (1977), 32 N.C. App. 422, 232 S.E.2d 479.) The confidential nature of the adoption also functions to protect the adoptee from any stigma of illegitimacy and conflicts between natural and adoptive parents. (Mills v. Atlantic City Department; In re Adoption of Female Infant; see also Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 40, par. 1522.) The public interest in confidentiality is to preserve the integrity of the adoptive process and to provide the adoptive family with the same autonomous environment traditionally afforded other families. (Alma Society, Inc. v. Mellon; In re Christine.) The statutory provision for sealed birth and adoption records is an obvious legislative attempt to consider the interests of all parties to the adoption proceeding. As such, we do not believe that the petitioner's right to receive information outweighs the different interests of the other parties involved. Moreover, the petitioner's right to receive information regarding his biological origins is not totally denied. Rather, it is conditioned only upon a showing of good cause. This conditional limitation on the disclosure of adoption records is not unreasonable and is necessary to meaningfully balance the varying interests of the parties. We find that petitioner's right to receive information has not been unconstitutionally abridged.

Petitioner next contends that the Illinois statute violates his right to privacy. He asserts that the information regarding his ancestry is a family matter and should be free from government intrusion and restrictions.

Although the United States Constitution does not expressly mention right of privacy, the United States Supreme Court has recognized that a constitutional right to privacy exists. (Carey v. Population Services International (1977), 431 U.S. 678, 52 L.Ed.2d 675, 97 S.Ct. 2010; Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), 381 U.S. 479, 14 L.Ed.2d 510, 85 S.Ct. 1678.) Several matters concerning the family have been constitutionally protected from unwarranted governmental intrusion, such as marriage (Loving v. Virginia (1967), 388 U.S. 1, 18 L.Ed.2d 1010, 87 S.Ct. 1817), procreation (Skinner v. Oklahoma (1942), 316 U.S. 535, 86 L.Ed. 1655, 62 S.Ct. 1110), contraception (Eisenstadt v. Baird (1972), 405 U.S. 438, 31 L.Ed.2d 349, 92 S.Ct. 1029), abortion (Roe v. Wade (1973), 410 U.S. 113, 35 L.Ed.2d 147, 93 S.Ct. 705), child rearing (Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972), 406 U.S. 205, 32 L.Ed.2d 15, 92 S.Ct. 1526), and family relationships (Prince v. Massachusetts (1944), 321 U.S. 158, 88 L.Ed. 645, 64 S.Ct. 435). Nevertheless, the constitutional guarantee of privacy protects only those personal rights which are fundamental or implicit in the concept of ordered liberty. (Roe v. Wade; Palko v. Connecticut (1937), 302 U.S. 319, 82 L.Ed. 288, 58 S.Ct. 149; Smith v. Shimp (1977), 562 F.2d 423.) In the present case, petitioner has presented substantial evidence of the psychological and social significance of hereditary information to the adoptee. Yet, the relative social or individual importance of the requested information is not determinative. Petitioner's interest in the biological information can be regarded as fundamental only if his asserted right to the information is explicitly or implicitly guaranteed by the Constitution. (San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez (1973), 411 U.S. 1, 36 L.Ed.2d 16, 93 S.Ct. 1278.) Petitioner's interest in the requested information, while socially and psychologically important, cannot be considered fundamental by definition. Having determined that petitioner's interest is not fundamental in the constitutional sense, and that the Illinois statute providing for sealed birth and adoption records serves many important interests in the adoption process, we find that the statute does not violate petitioner's right to privacy.

Petitioner also contends that the Illinois statute violates due process. Freedom of personal choice in matters of family life is one of the liberties protected by the due process clause of the fourteenth amendment. (Smith v. Organization of Foster Families (1977), 431 U.S. 816, 53 L.Ed.2d 14, 97 S.Ct. 2094.) Family interests, however, are not beyond regulation. (Moore v. East Cleveland (1977), 431 U.S. 494, 52 L.Ed.2d 531, 97 S.Ct. 1932.) Due process is not an inflexible concept. (In re Stephenson (1977), 67 Ill.2d 544, 369 N.E.2d 1273.) In determining whether the Illinois statute violates due process, the nature of petitioner's interest must be examined in conjunction with the importance of the other varying interests and the extent to which they are served by the challenged statute. Moore v. East Cleveland; Board of Regents v. Roth (1972), 408 U.S. 564, 33 L.Ed.2d 548, 92 S.Ct. 2701.

In the present case, petitioner's desire to learn the identity of his natural parents is not based upon medical necessity, psychological trauma, religious or moral concerns. Likewise, his wish is not asserted for any significant social or economic reasons. Indeed, by his own testimony, petitioner has stated that his desire is simply one of curiosity. Petitioner's request for disclosure may have significant impact upon the adoption process and on the other persons involved. The statute providing for confidentiality was designed, among other goals, to protect the interests of all persons involved in the adoptive process. Release of sealed adoption records conditioned upon a showing of good cause does no more than protect these various interests. It places no undue burden upon the adoptee and does not arbitrarily impose upon or purposelessly restrain the adoptee's desire for gealogical information. Such regulation merely gives full recognition to an adoptive family unit already in existence and provides some protection for the natural parents and the adoptive process. We find no violation of due process.

Petitioner next contends that the Illinois statute violates his right to equal protection of the laws. He maintains that adoptees are discriminated against because only they must secure a court order to obtain birth records and that such a classification is inherently suspect. Suspect classes have been described as those which suffer from "an immutable characteristic determined solely by the accident of birth." (Frontiero v. Richardson (1973), 411 U.S. 677, 686, 36 L.Ed.2d 583, 591, 93 S.Ct. 1764, 1770.) Traditional indications of suspect classes have been a history of purposeful unequal treatment and relegation to a position of political powerlessness. (San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez.) Suspect classifications are subject to the strictest standard of judicial review. (Graham v. Richardson (1971), 403 U.S. 365, 29 L.Ed.2d 534, 91 S.Ct. 1848.) On this basis, only race (McLaughlin v. Florida (1964), 379 U.S. 184, 13 L.Ed.2d 222, 85 S.Ct. 283), alienage (Graham v. Richardson), and national origin (Oyama v. California (1948), 332 U.S. 633, 92 L.Ed. 249, 68 S.Ct. 269), have been designated as suspect classifications. We do not believe that adoptees satisfy suspect ...

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