Trimble v. Gordon
430 U.S. 762 (1977)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Trimble v. Gordon, 430 U.S. 762 (1977)

Trimble v. Gordon

No. 75-5952

Argued December 7, 1976

Decided April 26, 1977

430 U.S. 762


Section 12 of the Illinois Probate Act, which allows illegitimate children to inherit by intestate succession only from their mothers (though, under Illinois law, legitimate children may inherit by intestate succession from both their mothers and their fathers), held to violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 430 U. S. 766-776.

(a) A classification based on illegitimacy such as that challenged here is not "suspect" so as to require that it survive "strict scrutiny," Mathews v. Lucas,427 U. S. 495, 427 U. S. 506. Nevertheless, this Court requires, "at a minimum, that a statutory classification bear some rational relationship to a legitimate state purpose," Weber v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co.,406 U. S. 164, 406 U. S. 172, and the Court's previous decisions in this area show that the standard is "not a toothless one." Mathews v. Lucas, supra at 427 U. S. 510. P. 430 U. S. 767.

(b) Section 12 cannot be justified on the ground that it promotes legitimate family relationships. A State may not attempt to influence the actions of men and women by imposing sanctions on the children born of their illegitimate relationships. Pp. 430 U. S. 768-770.

(c) Difficulties of proving paternity in some situations do not justify the total statutory disinheritance of illegitimate children whose fathers die intestate. Section 12 is not "carefully tuned to alternative considerations," Mathews v. Lucas, supra at 427 U. S. 513, as is illustrated by the fact that, in the instant case, the decedent had been determined to be the appellant child's father in a state court paternity action. Pp. 430 U. S. 770-773.

(d) The fact that appellant's father could have provided for her by making a will does not save § 12 from invalidity under the Equal Protection Clause. Pp. 430 U. S. 773-774.

(e) Though appellees contend that § 12 should be sustained on the theory that it represents the legislature's attempt to mirror the intent of Illinois decedents, the Illinois Supreme Court. in construing the law. did not rely upon a theory of presumed intent, and this Court's own examination of the statutory provision discloses no such legislative intent; rather, as the State Supreme Court indicated, § 12's primary purpose was to provide a system of intestate succession more just to

Page 430 U. S. 763

illegitimate children than the previous law, tempered by the secondary interest in protecting against spurious paternity claims. Pp. 430 U. S. 774-776.

Reversed and remanded.

POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, BLACKMUN, and REHNQUIST, JJ., filed a dissenting statement, post, p. 430 U. S. 776. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 430 U. S. 777.

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