Labine v. Vincent

PETITIONER: Labine
RESPONDENT: Vincent
LOCATION: Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District

DOCKET NO.: 5257
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1970-1971)
LOWER COURT:

CITATION: 401 US 532 (1971)
ARGUED: Jan 19, 1971
DECIDED: Mar 29, 1971

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Labine v. Vincent

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 19, 1971 in Labine v. Vincent

Warren E. Burger:

We’ll hear arguments next in 5257, Labine against Vincent.

Mr. Cox?

James J. Cox:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

This case involves the Equal Protection rights of an 8-year-old Negro girl from Lake Charles Louisiana who was the daughter of the decedent Ezra Vincent.

Ezra Vincent died without having left a will but he bequeathed upon his child a formal proof of the child’s ancestry by a formal active acknowledgment before a notary public which was recorded in the division of public health statistics along with the child’s birth certificate which corroborated proof of parentage of Ezra Vincent of the child Rita Nell Vincent.

Warren E. Burger:

Mr. Cox, in many if not most states, that kind of acknowledgment suppose is the whole question?

James J. Cox:

As rightly said, Your Honor.

Warren E. Burger:

Well, I mean as a matter of statute?

Statute expressly provides that the acknowledgment as the consequence of establishing legitimacy but Louisiana statute --

James J. Cox:

Does not Your Honor.

Mr. Chief Justice Burger, I think this is the crux and the real issue of the case.

It’s not a question of whether or not of a state as was so aptly put in Justice Harlan’s dissent in the Levy and Glona cases has the right to require a formal burden of proof standards or criteria which are meaningful and relevant in determining the question of the state's application of its laws but in this case, no matter what burden of proof is met by this particular child, because of the fact that the child is saddled with the stigma of illegitimacy, this child can inherit nothing and in fact as what in effect is a different standard of requesting support from the decedent’s state.

This particular child had much better proof of her relationship to the decedent Ezra Vincent than did the brothers and sisters of the decedent who came from Washington DC and other far away places to claim the decedent’s estate and were granted the decedent’s estate by all of the Louisiana Courts.

These brothers and sisters could produce no marriage license to show that their parents were married. They could produce no birth certificates to show they were children of the same parent as the decedent Ezra Vincent.

Their reputation proof was extremely sketchy.

None of the witnesses other than family members, the brothers and sisters themselves could recite the names of the brothers and sisters of the decedent and yet the Louisiana Courts because of its faulty burden of proof situation and because of its traditional prejudice against illegitimates rather awarded the estate to the brothers and sisters than to the little child.

Potter Stewart:

Suppose the brothers and sisters were rather aged people weren’t they?

James J. Cox:

They were Your Honor and in fairness --

Potter Stewart:

The father was 70, her father who acknowledged --

James J. Cox:

Yes.

Potter Stewart:

-- this child was his child, was 70-years old at the time of his death?

James J. Cox:

Yes Your Honor but that’s not beyond the --

Potter Stewart:

And I suppose some at least, some of his brothers and sisters were older than she and --

James J. Cox:

In fairness Justice Stewart, I would say that records were not kept in Louisiana, there were court house fires and other reasons why it was difficult to prove relationship by the same token of the fact of burden of proof and the fact of proof of relationship is extremely significant in a case of this sort because it goes to the question of what is a state's legitimate interest in legislating against a particular class of people.

Potter Stewart:

How old is the mother?

James J. Cox:

The mother was 51-years old.

Potter Stewart:

And she is now, she is now married Mr. Labine?

James J. Cox:

Mr. Labine is deceased Your Honor.

Potter Stewart:

I see.

She married at the --