A three-judge District Court in the Northern District of Illinois upheld the constitutionality of a provision of the Social Security Act which provides that certain illegitimate children, who cannot qualify for benefits under any other provision of the Act, may obtain benefits if, but only if, the disabled wage-earner parent is shown to have contributed to the child's support or to have lived with him prior to the parent's disability.
The relevant facts are not in dispute. Ramon Jimenez, a wage earner covered under the Social Security Act, became disabled in April 1963, and became entitled to disability benefits in October 1963. Some years prior to that time, the claimant separated from his wife and began living with Elizabeth Hernandez, whom he never married. Three children were born to them, Magdalena, born August 13, 1963, Eugenio, born January 18, 1965, and Alicia, born February 24, 1968. These children have lived in Illinois with claimant all their lives; he has formally acknowledged them to be his children, has supported and cared for them since their birth, and has been their sole caretaker since their mother left the household late in 1968. Since the parents never married, these children are classified as illegitimate under Illinois law and are unable to inherit from their father because they are nonlegitimated illegitimate children. Ill. Ann. Stat., c. 3, § 12 (Supp. 1974).
Appellants urge that the contested Social Security provision is based upon the so-called "suspect classification" of illegitimacy. Like race and national origin, they argue, illegitimacy is a characteristic determined solely by the accident of birth; it is a condition beyond the control of the children, and it is a status that subjects the children to a stigma of inferiority and a badge of opprobrium. We need not reach appellants' argument, however, because
Conversely, the Secretary urges us to uphold this statutory scheme on the ground that the case is controlled by the Court's recent ruling in Dandridge v. Williams, 397 U.S. 471 (1970), where we noted:
However, Dandridge involved an equal protection attack upon Maryland's Aid to Families with Dependent Children program which provided aid in accordance with the family's standard of need, but limited the maximum grant to $250 per family, regardless of size, thereby reducing the per capita allowance for children of large families. We noted that the AFDC welfare program is a " `scheme of cooperative federalism'" and that the "starting point of the statutory analysis must be a recognition that the federal law gives each State great latitude in dispensing its available funds." Id., at 478. This special deference to Maryland's statutory approach was necessary because, "[g]iven Maryland's finite resources, its choice is either to support some families adequately and others less adequately, or not to give sufficient support to any family." Id., at 479. Here, by contrast, there is no evidence supporting the contention that to allow illegitimates in the classification of appellants to receive benefits would significantly impair the federal Social Security trust fund and necessitate a reduction in the scope of persons benefited by the Act. On the contrary, the Secretary has persistently maintained that the purpose of the contested statutory scheme is to provide support for dependents of a wage earner who has lost his earning power, and that the provisions excluding some afterborn illegitimates from recovery are designed only to prevent spurious claims and ensure that only those actually
As we have noted, the primary purpose of the contested Social Security scheme is to provide support for dependents of a disabled wage earner.
In each of the examples just mentioned, the child is by statute "deemed dependent" upon the parent by virtue of his status and no dependency or paternity need be shown for the child to qualify for benefits. However, nonlegitimated illegitimates in appellants' position, who cannot inherit under state law and whose illegitimacy does not derive solely from a defect in their parents' wedding ceremony, are denied a parallel right to the dependency presumption under the Act. Their dilemma is compounded by the fact that the statute denies them any opportunity to prove dependency in order to establish their "claim" to support and, hence, their right to eligibility. § 416 (h) (3) (B). The Secretary maintains that this absolute bar to disability benefits is necessary to prevent spurious claims because "[t]o the unscrupulous person, all that prevents him from realizing. . . gain is the mere formality of a spurious acknowledgment of paternity or a collusive paternity suit with the mother of an illegitimate child who is herself desirous or in need of the additional cash." Jimenez v. Richardson, 353 F. Supp., at 1361.
From what has been outlined it emerges that afterborn illegitimate children are divided into two subclassifications under this statute. One subclass is made up of those (a) who can inherit under state intestacy laws, or (b) who are legitimated under state law, or (c) who are
We recognize that the prevention of spurious claims is a legitimate governmental interest and that dependency of illegitimates in appellants' subclass, as defined under the federal statute, has not been legally established even though, as here, paternity has been acknowledged. As we have noted, the Secretary maintains that the possibility that evidence of parentage or support may be fabricated is greater when the child is not born until after the wage earner has become entitled to benefits. It does not follow, however, that the blanket and conclusive exclusion of appellants' subclass of illegitimates is reasonably related to the prevention of spurious claims. Assuming that the appellants are in fact dependent on the claimant, it would not serve the purposes of the Act to conclusively deny them an opportunity to establish their dependency and their right to insurance benefits, and it would discriminate between the two subclasses of afterborn illegitimates without any basis for the distinction since the potential for spurious claims is exactly the same as to both subclasses.
The Secretary does not contend that it is necessarily or universally true that all illegitimates in appellants' subclass would be unable to establish their dependency and eligibility under the Act if the statute gave them an opportunity to do so. Nor does he suggest a basis for the assumption that all illegitimates who are statutorily
In the District Court the Secretary, relying on the validity of the statutory exclusion, did not undertake to challenge the assertion that appellants are the children of the claimant, that they lived with the claimant all their lives, that he has formally acknowledged them to be his children, and that he has supported and cared for them since their birth. Accordingly, the judgment is vacated and the case is remanded to provide appellants an opportunity, consistent with this opinion, to establish their
Vacated and remanded.
MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST, dissenting.
I frankly find the Court's opinion in this case a perplexing three-legged stool. The holding is clearly founded in notions of equal protection, see ante, at 637, and the Court speaks specifically of improper "discrimination." Yet the opinion has strong due process overtones as well, at times appearing to pay homage to the still novel, and I think unsupportable, theory that "irrebuttable presumptions" violate due process. At other times the opinion seems to suggest that the real problem in this case is the Government's failure to build an adequate evidentiary record in support of the challenged legislation. The result is a rather impressionistic determination that Congress' efforts to cope with spurious claims of entitlement, while preserving maximum benefits for those persons most likely to be deserving, are simply not satisfactory to the members of this Court. I agree with neither the Court's approach nor its decision.
The Court's equal protection analysis is perhaps most difficult to understand. The Court apparently finds no need to resolve the question of whether illegitimacy constitutes a "suspect classification," noting instead that "`the Equal Protection Clause does enable us to strike down discriminatory laws relating to status of birth where . . . the classification is justified by no legitimate state interest, compelling or otherwise.' [Weber v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co., 406 U.S. 164, 176 (1972).]" Ante, at 632. (Emphasis added.) This statement might be thought to set the stage for a decision striking down the legislation on the basis of discrimination between legitimates and illegitimates. But the Court then leaves that
The Court's rejection of this principle strongly smacks of due process rather than equal protection concepts. The Court states that "[a]ssuming . . . appellants are in fact dependent on the claimant, it would not serve the purpose of the Act to conclusively deny them an opportunity to establish their dependency and their right to insurance benefits," ante, at 636 (emphasis added), and indicates that the real problem with the legislation is that it is both "overinclusive" and "underinclusive." According to the Court, the legislation cannot stand because "some children" entitled to benefits "are not dependent on their disabled parent" and because "some illegitimates" who do not get benefits "are, in fact, dependent upon their disabled parent." Ante, at 637. In my view this is simply an attack on "irrebuttable presumptions" in another guise. See Cleveland Board of Education v. LaFleur, 414 U.S. 632 (1974). The very process of making legislative decisions to govern society as a whole means that some individuals will be treated less favorably than other individuals who fall within a different legislative classification.
There are also hints in the opinion that the Government failed to build an adequate evidentiary record in support of the challenged classifications. Thus the Court distinguishes Dandridge v. Williams, supra, a case in which the Court respected the State's allocation of limited resources, by saying: "Here, by contrast, there is no evidence supporting the contention that to allow illegitimates in the classification of appellants to receive benefits would significantly impair the federal Social Security trust fund and necessitate a reduction in the scope of persons benefited by the Act." Ante, at 633. (Emphasis added.) I should think it obvious that any increase in the number of eligible recipients would serve to additionally deplete a fixed fund, but I find even stranger the notion that the Government must present evidence to justify each and every classification that a legislature chooses to make. If I read the Court's opinion correctly, it would seem to require, for example, that the Government compile evidence to support Congress' determination that Social Security benefits begin at a specified age, perhaps even requiring statistics to show that need is greater (in all cases?) at that age than at lesser ages. This proposition is certainly far removed from traditional principles of deference to legislative judgment. As we stated in McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U.S. 420, 426
Since I believe that the District Court correctly concluded that the classifications at issue rest upon a rational basis, I dissent.