|Mathews v. Lucas
[ Blackmun ]
[ Stevens ]
Mathews v. Lucas
APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE 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 surviving child's benefits if the child is under 18, or a student under 22, and was dependent at the time of the parent's death. A child is considered dependent if the insured parent was living with him or contributed to the child's support at the time of death. Certain children, however, need not submit such individualized proof of dependency. Unless adopted by some other person, a child who is legitimate or would be entitled to inherit from the insured parent under state law is considered dependent at the time of the parent's death, or even lacking this relationship under state intestacy law is entitled to a presumption of dependency if the decedent before death had gone through a marriage ceremony with the other parent, resulting in a purported marriage which, but for a nonobvious defect, would have been valid, or had acknowledged in writing that the child was his, or had been decreed by a court to be the child's father, or had been ordered by a court to support the child because the child was his. After their father died, appellee illegitimate children were administratively denied surviving children's benefits on the ground that they failed to show dependency by proof that their father lived with them or was contributing to their support at the time of his death, or by any of the statutory presumptions of dependency. After this ruling was upheld on administrative appeal, appellees filed an action for review against appellant Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, alleging that the denial of benefits violated the equal protection component of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment because other children, including all legitimate children, are statutorily entitled, as appellee children are not, to survivors' benefits regardless of actual dependency. The District Court held that the statutory classifications were constitutionally impermissible, reversing the administrative decision and ordering that benefits be paid to the children.
1. The judicial scrutiny traditionally devoted to cases involving [p496] discrimination along lines of race or national origin is not required because legislation treats legitimate and illegitimate offspring differently. Pp. 503-506.
2. The challenged statutory classifications are permissible because they are reasonably related to the likelihood of dependency at death, and in failing to extend any presumption of dependency to appellee children and others like them, the Act does not impermissibly discriminate against them as compared with legitimate children or those illegitimate children who are statutorily deemed dependent. Pp. 507-516.
(a) While Congress was unwilling to assume that every child of a deceased insured was dependent at the time of death, by presuming dependency on the basis of relatively readily documented facts, such as legitimate birth, or a support order or paternity decree, which could be relied upon to indicate the likelihood of continued actual dependency, Congress was able to avoid the burden and expense of specific case-by-case determination in the large number of cases where dependency is objectively probable. Such presumptions in aid of administrative functions, though they may approximate, rather than precisely mirror, the results that case-by-case adjudication would show, are permissible under the Fifth Amendment, so long as that lack of precise equivalence does not exceed the bounds of substantiality tolerated by the applicable level of scrutiny. Pp. 509-510.
(b) The challenged classifications are justified as reasonable empirical judgments that are consistent with a design to qualify entitlement to benefits upon a child's dependency at the time of the parent's death. Gomez v. Perez, 409 U.S. 535; New Jersey Welfare Rights Org. v. Cahill, 411 U.S. 619; Weber v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co., 406 U.S. 164; Levy v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 68; Jimenez v. Weinberger, 417 U.S. 628; Frontiero v. Richardson, 411 U.S. 677, distinguished. Pp. 510-516.
390 F.Supp. 1310, reversed.
BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, WHITE, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 516. [p497]