Mathews v. Lucas

LOCATION:Nortown Theater

DOCKET NO.: 75-88
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)

CITATION: 427 US 495 (1976)
ARGUED: Jan 13, 1976
DECIDED: Jun 29, 1976

C. Christopher Brown – for appellees
Keith A. Jones – for appellant

Facts of the case


Media for Mathews v. Lucas

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – January 13, 1976 in Mathews v. Lucas

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – June 29, 1976 in Mathews v. Lucas

Harry A. Blackmun:

The next is number 75-88, Mathews against Lucas.

This comes to us from the decision of a single Federal District Judge for District of Rhode Island.

The Social Security Act provides that a child of an individual, who died fully insured under the Act is entitled to a surviving child’s benefits if the child is 18 and was dependent at the time of the parent’s death.

The Act goes on to say that a child is considered dependent if the insured parent at the time of his death was living with a child or was contributing to the child’s support.

Now certain children, however, need not submit specific proof of that dependency.

A child who is legitimate or one who would be entitled to inherit from the parent under State Intestacy Law is considered dependent at the time of the Parent’s death.

A similar presumption of dependency is made if the decedent, before death, had gone through a marriage ceremony with the other parent but that ceremony for a non-obvious defect was not valid, and so too if the parent had acknowledged in writing that the child was has or had been decreed by a court to be the father or had been ordered by court to support the child because the child was his.

The appellees here are illegitimate children of a diseased insured father.

They were administratively denied children’s benefits on the ground that they failed to show dependency by proof, either that their father lived with them or was contributing to their support or by any of the statutory presumptions of dependency.

When administratively relief was not forthcoming the appellees brought this suit against the Secretory of HEW and they alleged that the denial of benefits to them violated the Equal Protection component of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.

The court held, the District Court, that the statutory classifications were constitutionally impermissible and it ordered the payment of benefits.

In an opinion filed today with the clerk, we reverse that Judgment.

We hold that the Judicial scrutiny traditionally devoted in cases involved in discrimination along lines of race or national origin is not required because legislation treats legitimate and illegitimate offspring differently.

The challenged classifications here are permissible because they are reasonably related to the likelihood of dependency at death.

In failing to extend any presumption of dependency to the appellees, the Act does not permissibly discriminate against them as compared with legitimate children or with those illegitimates who are statutorily deemed dependent.

Congress here was able to avoid the burden and expense of case by case determination in the large number of cases where dependency is objectively probable.

It is true, of course, that the presumptions Congress imposed may be said to be approximate rather than precisely to mirror the results that case by case the adjudication would show, and nevertheless they are permissible under the Fifth Amendment so long as the lack to precise equivalence does not exceed the balance of substantiality to tolerate it by the applicable level of scrutiny.

The challenged classifications are justified, therefore, as reasonable and empirical judgments, consistent with the design that qualify entitlement to benefits upon a child’s dependency at the time of the parent’s death.

Mr. Justice Stevens has filed a dissenting opinion and is joined in that opinion by Mr. Justice Brennan and Mr. Justice Marshall.