MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.
In this appeal the guardian (tutrix) of an illegitimate minor child attacks the constitutionality of Louisiana's laws that bar an illegitimate child from sharing equally with legitimates in the estate of their father who had publicly acknowledged the child, but who died without a will. To understand appellant's constitutional arguments and our decision, it is necessary briefly to review the facts giving rise to this dispute. On March 15, 1962, a baby girl, Rita Vincent, was born to Lou Bertha Patterson (now Lou Bertha Labine) in Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana. On May 10, 1962, Lou Bertha Patterson and Ezra Vincent, as authorized by Louisiana law, jointly executed before a notary a Louisiana State Board of Health form acknowledging that Ezra Vincent was the "natural father" of Rita Vincent.
Ezra Vincent died intestate, that is, without a will, on September 16, 1968, in Rapides Parish, Louisiana, leaving substantial property within the State, but no will to direct its distribution. Appellant, as the guardian of Rita Vincent, petitioned in state court for the appointment of an administrator for the father's estate; for
The administrator of the succession of Ezra Vincent answered the petition claiming that Vincent's relatives were entitled to the whole estate. He relied for the claim upon two articles of the Louisiana Civil Code of 1870: Art. 206, which provides:
and Art. 919, which provides:
The court ruled that the relatives of the father were his collateral relations and that under Louisiana's laws of intestate succession took his property to the exclusion of acknowledged, but not legitimated, illegitimate children. The court, therefore, dismissed with costs the guardian mother's petition to recognize the child as an heir. The court also ruled that in view of Social Security payments of $60 per month and Veterans Administration payments of $40 per month available for the support of the child, the guardian for the child was not entitled to support or maintenance from the succession of Ezra Vincent.
In this Court appellant argues that Louisiana's statutory scheme for intestate succession that bars this illegitimate child from sharing in her father's estate constitutes an invidious discrimination against illegitimate children that cannot stand under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Constitution. Much reliance is placed upon the Court's decisions in Levy v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 68 (1968), and Glona v. American Guarantee & Liability Insurance Co., 391 U.S. 73 (1968). For the reasons set out below, we find appellant's reliance on those cases misplaced, and we decline to extend the rationale of those cases where it does not apply. Accordingly, we affirm the decision below.
In Levy the Court held that Louisiana could not consistently with the Equal Protection Clause bar an illegitimate child from recovering for the wrongful death of its mother when such recoveries by legitimate children were authorized. The cause of action alleged in Levy was in tort. It was undisputed that Louisiana had created a statutory tort
The people of Louisiana, through their legislature have carefully regulated many of the property rights incident to family life. Louisiana law prescribes certain formalities requisite to the contracting of marriage.
These rules for intestate succession may or may not reflect the intent of particular parents. Many will think that it is unfortunate that the rules are so rigid. Others will think differently. But the choices reflected by the intestate succession statute are choices which it is within the power of the State to make. The Federal Constitution does not give this Court the power to overturn the State's choice under the guise of constitutional interpretation because the Justices of this Court believe that they can provide better rules. Of course, it may be said that the rules adopted by the Louisiana Legislature "discriminate" against illegitimates. But the rules also discriminate against collateral relations, as opposed to ascendants, and against ascendants, as opposed to descendants. Other rules determining property rights
We emphasize that this is not a case, like Levy, where the State has created an insurmountable barrier to this illegitimate child. There is not the slightest suggestion in this case that Louisiana has barred this illegitimate from inheriting from her father. Ezra Vincent could have left one-third of his property to his illegitimate daughter had he bothered to follow the simple formalities of executing a will. He could, of course, have legitimated the child by marrying her mother in which case the child could have inherited his property either by intestate succession or by will as any other legitimate child. Finally, he could have awarded his child the benefit of Louisiana's intestate succession statute on the same terms as legitimate children simply by stating in his acknowledgment of paternity his desire to legitimate the little girl. See Bergeron v. Miller, 230 So.2d 417 (La. App. 1970).
In short, we conclude that in the circumstances presented in this case, there is nothing in the vague generalities of the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses
MR. JUSTICE HARLAN, concurring.
In joining the opinion of the Court, I wish to add a few words, prompted, I may say, by the dissenting opinion, which in my view evinces extravagant notions of what constitutes a denial of "equal protection" in the constitutional sense.
It is surely entirely reasonable for Louisiana to provide that a man who has entered into a marital relationship thereby undertakes obligations to any resulting offspring beyond those which he owes to the products of a casual liaison, and this whether or not he admits the fact of fatherhood in the latter case.
In addition to imposing these obligations, Louisiana law prohibits testamentary dispositions to one's illegitimate children. Even were my dissenting Brethren prepared to hold this rule of law unconstitutional, to do so would not affect the outcome of this case. First, appellant's child is "natural" rather than "illegitimate"; and second, if the father desired her to have his property after his death, he did not manifest that desire in the appropriate way.
MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN, with whom MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS, MR. JUSTICE WHITE, and MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL join, dissenting.
In my view, Louisiana's intestate succession laws, insofar as they treat illegitimate children whose fathers have publicly acknowledged them differently from legitimate children, plainly violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court today effectively concedes this, and, to reach its result, resorts to the startling measure of simply excluding such illegitimate children from the protection of the Clause, in order to uphold the untenable and discredited moral prejudice of bygone centuries which vindictively punished not only the illegitimates' parents, but also the hapless, and innocent, children. Based upon such a premise, today's decision cannot even pretend to be a principled decision. This is surprising from Justice who have heretofore so vigorously decried decisionmaking rested upon personal predilections, to borrow the Court's words, of "life-tenured judges of this Court." Ante, at 539. I respectfully dissent.
In 1961, Ezra Vincent was 69 years old and Lou Bertha Patterson (now Lou Bertha Labine) was 41. They were unmarried adults living in rural, southwest Louisiana, outside the town of Lake Charles. Soon after meeting each other in 1961, Mrs. Patterson moved in with Mr. Vincent. Although they did not marry, Mrs. Patterson had a daughter by Mr. Vincent on March 15, 1962. The child's birth certificate identified the father and mother by name. Within two months, Mr. Vincent and Mrs. Patterson appeared before a notary public and executed a form, in accordance with Louisiana law, acknowledging that Mr. Vincent was the father of the child. A month later, the child's birth certificate was changed to give the child Mr. Vincent's name,
As natural tutrix of Mr. Vincent's only child, Rita Nell's mother brought this suit on the child's behalf seeking to have Rita Nell declared Mr. Vincent's sole heir. Applying Louisiana law,
The rationality and constitutionality of Louisiana's treatment of the illegitimate child can only be analyzed against the background of a proper understanding of that State's law. Under Louisiana law, legitimate children have an automatic right to inherit from their parents.
Thus it is that Louisiana law distinguishes between legitimate children and illegitimate children throughout that law's extensive regulation of family affairs.
Under Louisiana law a legitimate child would have had an absolute right to inherit Mr. Vincent's estate; Mr. Vincent could not have totally disinherited such a child. This is a consequence of Louisiana's "forced heirship" law, in other words a consequence of a state decision, however contrary that might be to Mr. Vincent's own desires. Similarly in the present case, Mr. Vincent's illegitimate daughter, though duly acknowledged, is denied his intestate estate, not because he wished that result but because the State places her behind Mr. Vincent's collateral relations—indeed behind all his relations —in the line of succession.
The State's discrimination is clear and obvious.
For reasons not articulated, the Court refuses to consider in this case whether there is any reason at all, or any basis whatever, for the difference in treatment that Louisiana accords to publicly acknowledged illegitimates and to legitimate children. Rather, the Court simply asserts that "the power to make rules to establish, protect, and strengthen family life as well as to regulate the disposition of property left in Louisiana by a man dying there is committed by the Constitution of the United States and the people of Louisiana to the legislature of that State." Ante, at 538. But no one questions Louisiana's power to pass inheritance laws.
Putting aside the Court's repeated emphasis on Louisiana's power to regulate intestate succession—something not questioned and wholly irrelevant to the present constitutional issue—only two passages in the Court's opinion even attempt an argument in support of today's result. First, the Court tells us that Louisiana intestate succession law favors some classes of a deceased's relatives over other classes. That is certainly true, but the Court nowhere suggests what bearing these other discriminations have on the rationality of Louisiana's discrimination against the acknowledged illegitimate. It is a little like answering a complaint of Negro school children against separate lavatories for Negro and white students by arguing that the situation is no different from separate lavatories for boys and girls, or for elementary school children and high school students. These other discriminations may be rational or irrational. But their only relevance to the rationality and constitutionality of the specific challenged discrimination is the light they throw, if any, on the basis for that discrimination. The conclusion the Court appears to draw from its itemization of other discriminations among a deceased's
The only other hint at an attempt to support today's result may appear in the purported distinction of Levy v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 68 (1968): "We emphasize that this is not a case, like Levy, where the State has created an insurmountable barrier to this illegitimate child." Ante, at 539. There may be two implications in this statement: (1) that in Levy, there was an insurmountable barrier to recovery; and (2) that any discrimination that falls short of an "insurmountable barrier" is, without need for further analysis, permissible. As to the first, Levy involved an unacknowledged illegitimate child. Louisiana permitted an illegitimate child to recover in tort for the death of the child's mother, under the State's wrongful death act, only if the illegitimate child had been acknowledged. There was no insurmountable barrier to the child's recovery; if the mother had formally acknowledged the child, recovery would have been permitted. My Brother HARLAN's dissent emphasized this fact and argued that the State was entitled to rely on specified formalities. Plainly then Levy did not involve any "insurmountable barrier."
The Court's second implication—that any discrimination short of an "insurmountable barrier" is permissible —is one of those propositions the mere statement of which is its own refutation. Levy, as I have pointed out, holds squarely to the contrary specifically in the context of discrimination against illegitimate children. And numerous other cases in this Court establish the general proposition that discriminations that "merely" disadvantage a class of persons or businesses are as subject to
In short, the Court has not analyzed, or perhaps simply refuses to analyze, Louisiana's discrimination against acknowledged illegitimates in terms of the requirements of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Certainly, there is no biological basis for the State's distinction. Mr. Vincent's illegitimate daughter is related to him biologically in exactly the same way as a legitimate child would have been. Indeed, it is the identity of interest "in the biological and in the spiritual sense," Levy v. Louisiana, 391 U. S., at 72, and the identical "intimate, familial relationship," id., at 71, between both the legitimate and illegitimate child, and their father, which is the very basis for appellant's contention that the two must be treated alike.
Louisiana might be thought to have an interest in requiring people to go through certain formalities in order to eliminate complicated questions of proof and the opportunity for both error and fraud in determining paternity after the death of the father. This argument, of course, was the focal point of the dissent in Levy and Glona v. American Guarantee & Liability Insurance Co., 391 U.S. 73 (1968). I leave aside, for the moment, the fact that the holdings of those two cases indicate that this consideration is insufficient to justify a difference in treatment when there is no dispute over the fact of parentage. For my Brother HARLAN's dissenting opinion in those cases explicitly recognized that the State's interest in this regard is fully satisfied by a formal public acknowledgment. 391 U. S., at 80. When a father has formally acknowledged his child or gone through any state authorized formality for declaring paternity, or when there has been a court judgment of paternity, there is no possible difficulty of proof, and no opportunity for fraud or error. This purported interest certainly can offer no justification for distinguishing between a formally acknowledged illegitimate child and a legitimate one.
It is also important not to obscure the fact that the formality of marriage primarily signifies a relationship
Intestate succession laws might seek to carry out a general intent of parents not to provide for publicly acknowledged illegitimate children. However, as the summary of Louisiana law I have made shows, one of the primary hallmarks of Louisiana's civil code is its detailed, extensive regulation of the family relationship. Its discrimination against the illegitimate in matters of inheritance and succession is official state policy, completely negating any argument that such discrimination merely represents a legislative judgment about the probable wishes of a deceased or the desires of most persons in similar situations. The opinion of the state court below itself eliminates that possibility. The Louisiana court
Even if Louisiana law could be read as being based on a legislative judgment about parents' intent, the present discrimination against illegitimates could not stand. In order to justify a discrimination on the ground that it reflects a legislative judgment about the desires of most persons in similar situations, there must be some rational basis
Moreover, logic and common experience also suggest that a father who has publicly acknowledged his illegitimate child will not generally intend to disinherit his child. A man who publicly announces that he has fathered a child out of wedlock has publicly claimed that child for his own. He has risked public opprobrium, or other sanctions, to make the public announcement. Surely, it does not follow that he will generally desire to disinherit that child and further discredit his reputation by refusing to contribute to his own child at death. All the writings cited to us, including a United Nations study report,
The Court nowhere mentions the central reality of this case: Louisiana punishes illegitimate children for the misdeeds of their parents. The judges of the Third Circuit Court of Appeal of Louisiana, whose judgment the Court here reviews, upheld the present discrimination "[h]owever unfair it may be to punish innocent children for the fault of their parents . . . ." 229 So. 2d, at 452. It is certainly unusual in this country for a person to be legally disadvantaged on the basis of factors over which
In my judgment, only a moral prejudice, prevalent in 1825 when the Louisiana statutes under consideration were adopted, can support Louisiana's discrimination against illegitimate children. Since I can find no rational basis to justify the distinction Louisiana creates between an acknowledged illegitimate child and a legitimate one, that discrimination is clearly invidious.
"Those who afterwards marry are excepted from this rule." La. Civ. Code Ann., Art. 1481 (1952).
"In the cases prescribed by the two last preceding articles [legitimate children and parents], the heirs are called forced heirs, because the donor can not deprive them of the portion of his estate reserved for them by law, except in cases where he has a just cause to disinherit them." (Emphasis in original.)
"The just causes for which parents may disinherit their children are ten in number, to wit:
"1. If the child has raised his or her hand to strike the parent, or if he or she has actually struck the parent; but a mere threat is not sufficient.
"2. If the child has been guilty, towards a parent, of cruelty, of a crime or grievous injury.
"3. If the child has attempted to take the life of either parent.
"4. If the child has accused a parent of any capital crime, except, however, that of high treason.
"5. If the child has refused sustenance to a parent, having means to afford it.
"6. If the child has neglected to take care of a parent become insane.
"7. If the child refused to ransom them, when detained in captivity.
"8. If the child used any act of violence or coercion to hinder a parent from making a will.
"9. If the child has refused to become security for a parent, having the means, in order to take him out of prison.
"10. If the son or daughter, being a minor, marries without the consent of his or her parents."
The persons seeking to take against the disinherited forced heir must prove the truth of the "just cause" alleged in the parent's will. Pennywell v. George, 164 La. 630, 114 So. 493 (1927). Disinherison is not favored. Succession of Reems, 134 La. 1033, 64 So. 898 (1914).
"Donations inter vivos or mortis causa can not exceed two-thirds of the property of the disposer, if he leaves, at his decease, a legitimate child; one-half, if he leaves two children; and one-third, if he leaves three or a greater number."
See generally La. Civ. Code Ann., Arts. 1493-1518 (1952).
"A natural father or mother shall have the power to legitimate his or her natural children by an act passed before a notary and two witnesses, declaring that it is the intention of the parent making the declaration to legitimate such child or children. But only those natural children can be legitimated who are the offspring of parents who, at the time of conception, could have contracted marriage. Nor can a parent legitimate his or her natural offspring in the manner prescribed in this article, when there exists on the part of such parent legitimate ascendants or descendants." (Emphasis added.)
La. Civ. Code Ann., Art. 198 (1952), provides:
"Children born out of marriage, except those who are born from an incestuous connection, are legitimated by the subsequent marriage of their father and mother, whenever the latter have formally or informally acknowledged them for their children, either before or after the marriage."