Under the Social Security Act, illegitimate children are deemed
entitled to disability insurance benefits without any showing that
they are, in fact, dependent upon their disabled parent if state
law permits them to inherit from the wage-earner parent; if their
illegitimacy results solely from formal, nonobvious defects in
their parents' ceremonial marriage; or if they are legitimated in
accordance with state law. An illegitimate child unable to meet any
of the foregoing conditions can qualify only if the disabled
wage-earner parent contributed to the child's support or lived with
him prior to the parent's disability, 42 U.S.C. § 416(h)(3)(B); if
the child is unable to meet any of the foregoing conditions, the
statute bars the child's benefits without any opportunity to
establish entitlement thereto. Ramon Jimenez, a resident of
Illinois (which does not allow nonlegitimated illegitimate children
to inherit from their father), is a wage earner covered by the Act
who became entitled to disability benefits in October, 1963.
Thereafter, Jimenez applied for insurance benefits for appellants,
two of his nonlegitimated illegitimate children who were born after
the onset of disability. The claims were denied since the children
did not meet the requirements of 42 U.S.C. § 416(h)(3)(B) or the
other qualifying provisions of the Act. Appellants brought this
action for review of the denial of benefits. A three-judge District
Court upheld the statutory classification as being rationally
related to the proper governmental interest of avoiding spurious
Title 42 U.S.C. § 416(h)(3)(B), as part of the
statutory scheme applicable to illegitimates, contravenes the Due
Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment and the equal protection of
the laws guaranteed thereby. Pp. 417 U. S.
(a) "[T]he Equal Protection Clause [is violated by]
Page 417 U. S. 629
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
406 U. S. 176
Dandridge v. Williams, 397 U. S. 471
distinguished. Pp. 417 U. S.
(b) The primary purpose of the contested provision of the Act is
to provide support for dependents of a disabled wage earner and is
not, as appellee contends, to replace only that support actually
enjoyed before the onset of disability. Pp. 417 U. S.
(c) The complete statutory bar to disability benefits imposed
upon nonlegitimated after-born illegitimates in appellants'
position, is not reasonably related to the valid governmental
interest of preventing spurious claims. The potential for spurious
claims is the same as to both. Even if children might rationally be
classified on the basis of whether they are dependent upon their
disabled parents, the Act's definition of two subclasses of
illegitimates is "overinclusive" in that it benefits some children
who are legitimated, or entitled to inherit, or illegitimate solely
because of a defect in the marriage of their parents, but who are
not dependent on their disabled parent. Conversely, the Act is
"underinclusive" in that it conclusively excludes some
illegitimates in appellants' subclass who are, in fact, dependent
upon their disabled parent. Pp. 417 U. S.
(d) The judgment is vacated and the case is remanded to provide
appellants an opportunity to establish their claim to eligibility
as "children" of the claimant eligible for benefits under the Act.
Pp. 417 U. S.
, vacated and remanded.
BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which
DOUGLAS, BRENNAN, STEWART, WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and POWELL,
JJ., joined. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion,
p. 417 U. S.
Page 417 U. S. 630
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.
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. [Footnote 1
] The District Court held
that the statute's classification is rationally related to the
legitimate governmental interest of avoiding spurious claims.
Jimenez v. Richardson, 353 F.
, 1361 (1973). We noted probable jurisdiction. 414
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, (Supp. 1974).
Page 417 U. S. 631
On August 21, 1968, Ramon Jimenez, as the father, filed an
application for child's insurance benefits on behalf of these three
children. Magdalena was found to be entitled to child's insurance
benefits under the Social Security Act, and no issue is presented
with respect to her claim. The claims of appellants, Eugenio and
Alicia, were denied, however, on the ground that they did not meet
the requirements of 42 U.S.C. § 416(h)(3), since neither child's
paternity had been acknowledged or affirmed through evidence of
domicile and support before the onset of their father's disability.
] In all other
respects, Eugenio and Alicia are eligible to receive child's
insurance benefits, and their applications were denied solely
because they are proscribed illegitimate children who were not
dependent on Jimenez at the time of the onset of his
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,
Page 417 U. S. 632
in the context of this case, it is enough that we note, as we
did in Weber v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co.,
406 U. S. 164
"The status of illegitimacy has expressed through the ages
society's condemnation of irresponsible liaisons beyond the bonds
of marriage. But visiting this condemnation on the head of an
infant is illogical and unjust. Moreover, imposing disabilities on
the illegitimate child is contrary to the basic concept of our
system that legal burdens should bear some relationship to
individual responsibility or wrongdoing. Obviously, no child is
responsible for his birth, and penalizing the illegitimate child is
an ineffectual -- as well as an unjust -- way of deterring the
parent. Courts are powerless to prevent the social opprobrium
suffered by these hapless children, but 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."
at 406 U. S.
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.
(1970), where we noted:
"In the area of economics and social welfare, a State does not
violate the Equal Protection Clause merely because the
classifications made by its laws are imperfect. If the
classification has some 'reasonable basis,' it does not offend the
Constitution simply because the classification 'is not made with
mathematical nicety or because, in practice, it results in some
inequality.' Lindsley v. Natural Carbonic Gas Co.,
220 U. S.
, 220 U. S. 78
"The problems of government are
Page 417 U. S. 633
practical ones and may justify, if they do not require, rough
accommodations -- illogical, it may be, and unscientific."
"Metropolis Theatre Co. v. City of Chicago,
228 U. S.
, 228 U. S. 69
-70. 'A statutory
discrimination will not be set aside if any state of facts
reasonably may be conceived to justify it.' McGowan v.
Maryland, 366 U. S. 420
, 366 U. S.
at 397 U. S.
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 397 U. S. 478.
This special deference to Maryland's statutory approach was
"[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."
at 397 U. S. 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
after-born illegitimates from recovery are designed only to prevent
spurious claims and ensure that only those actually
Page 417 U. S. 634
entitled to benefit receive payments. Accepting this view of the
relevant provisions of the Act, we cannot conclude that the purpose
of the statutory exclusion of some after-born illegitimates is to
achieve a necessary allocation of finite resources and, to that
is distinguishable, and not
As we have noted, the primary purpose of the contested Social
Security scheme is to provide support for dependents of a disabled
wage earner. [Footnote 3
Secretary maintains that the Act denies benefits to after-born
illegitimates who cannot inherit or whose illegitimacy is not
solely because of a formal, nonobvious defect in their parents'
wedding ceremony, or who are not legitimated, because it is
"likely" that these illegitimates, as a class, will not possess the
requisite economic dependency on the wage earner which would
entitle them to recovery under the Act and because eligibility for
such benefits to those illegitimates would open the door to
spurious claims. Under this view, the Act's purpose would be to
replace only that support enjoyed prior to the onset of disability;
no child would be eligible to receive benefits unless the child had
experienced actual support from the wage earner prior to the
disability, and no child born after the onset of the wage earner's
disability would be allowed to recover. We do not read the statute
as supporting that view of its purpose. Under the statute, it is
clear that illegitimate children born after the wage earner becomes
disabled qualify for benefits if state law permits them to inherit
from the wage earner, § 416(h)(2)(A); or if their illegitimacy
Page 417 U. S. 635
from formal, nonobvious defects in their parents' ceremonial
marriage, § 416(h)(2)(b); or if they are legitimated in accordance
with state law, § 402(d)(3)(A). Similarly, legitimate children born
after their wage-earning parent has become disabled and legitimate
children born before the onset of disability are entitled to
benefits regardless of whether they were living with or being
supported by the disabled parent at the onset of the disability, §§
402(d)(1) and (3).
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, after-born
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
Page 417 U. S. 636
illegitimate only because of some formal defect in their
parents' ceremonial marriage. These children are deemed entitled to
receive benefits under the Act without any showing that they are,
in fact, dependent upon their disabled parent. The second
subclassification of after-born illegitimate children includes
those who are conclusively denied benefits because they do not fall
within one of the foregoing categories and are not entitled to
receive insurance benefits under any other provision of the
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 after-born
illegitimates without any basis for the distinction since the
potential for spurious claims is exactly the same as to both
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
Page 417 U. S. 637
deemed entitled to benefits under the Act are, in fact,
dependent upon their disabled parent. Indeed, as we have noted,
those illegitimates statutorily deemed dependent are entitled to
benefits regardless of whether they were living in, or had ever
lived in, a dependent family setting with their disabled parent.
Even if children might rationally be classified on the basis of
whether they are dependent upon their disabled parent, the Act's
definition of these two subclasses of illegitimates is
"overinclusive" in that it benefits some children who are
legitimated, or entitled to inherit, or illegitimate solely because
of a defect in the marriage of their parents, but who are not
dependent on their disabled parent. Conversely, the Act is
"underinclusive" in that it conclusively excludes some
illegitimates in appellants' subclass who are, in fact, dependent
upon their disabled parent. Thus, for all that is shown in this
record, the two subclasses of illegitimates stand on equal footing,
and the potential for spurious claims is the same as to both; hence
to conclusively deny one subclass benefits presumptively available
to the other denies the former the equal protection of the laws
guaranteed by the due process provision of the Fifth Amendment.
Schneider v. Rusk, 377 U. S. 163
377 U. S. 168
(1964); Bolling v. Sharpe, 347 U.
, 347 U. S. 499
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
Page 417 U. S. 638
claim to eligibility as "children" of the claimant under the
Social Security Act.
Vacated and remanded.
42 U.S.C.§ 416(h)(3).
The contested Social Security scheme provides, in essence, that
legitimate or legitimated children (42 U.S.C. § 402(d)(3)),
illegitimate children who can inherit their parent's personal
property under the intestacy laws of the State of the insured's
domicile (42 U.S.C. § 416(h)(2)(A)), and those children who cannot
inherit only because their parents' ceremonial marriage was invalid
for nonobvious defects (42 U.S.C. § 416(h)(2)(B)), are entitled to
receive benefits without any further showing of parental support.
However, illegitimate children such as Eugenio and Alicia who were
not living with or being supported by the applicant at the time the
claimant's period of disability began, and who do not fall into one
of the foregoing categories, are not entitled to receive any
benefits. 42 U.S.C. § 416(h)(3).
House-Senate Conference Committee Report on 1965
Amendments to Social Security Act, 111 Cong.Rec. 18387 (1965);
Report of the U.S. Advisory Council on Social Security, the Status
of the Social Security Program and Recommendations for its
Improvement 67 (1965).
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 417 U. S. 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
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
, 406 U. S.
at 417 U. S. 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
Page 417 U. S. 639
issue, finding instead that the statute is unconstitutional
because it "discriminate[s] between the two subclasses of
without any basis for the
distinction. . . ." Ante
at 417 U. S. 636
(Emphasis added.) Whatever may be the rationale for giving some
form of stricter scrutiny to classifications between legitimates
and illegitimates, that rationale simply vanishes when the alleged
discrimination is between classes of illegitimates. Such
classifications should instead be evaluated according to the
traditional principle set forth in Dandridge v. Williams,
397 U. S. 471
"If the classification has some 'reasonable basis,' it does not
offend the Constitution simply because the classification 'is not
made with mathematical nicety or because in practice it results in
at 397 U. S. 485
The Court's rejection of this principle strongly smacks of due
process, rather than equal protection concepts. The Court states
"[a]ssuming . . . appellants are, in fact, dependent on the
claimant, it would not serve the purpose of the Act to
deny them an opportunity to establish their
dependency and their right to insurance benefits,"
at 417 U. S. 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 417 U. S. 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
Page 417 U. S. 640
As THE CHIEF JUSTICE stated only last Term in Vlandis v.
Kline, 412 U. S. 441
412 U. S. 462
(1973) (dissenting opinion):
"[L]iterally thousands of state statutes create classifications
permanent in duration, which are less than perfect, as all
legislative classifications are, and might be improved on by
individualized determinations. . . ."
This Court should not invalidate such classifications simply out
of a preference for different classifications or because an
unworkable system of individualized consideration would
theoretically be more perfect.
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
"Here, by contrast, there is no evidence
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."
at 417 U. S. 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
366 U. S.
Page 417 U. S. 641
(1961): "A statutory discrimination will not be set aside if any
state of facts reasonably may be conceived to justify it." There is
nothing in that language that suggests to me that courtrooms should
become forums for a second round of legislative hearings whenever a
legislative determination is later challenged.
Since I believe that the District Court correctly concluded that
the classifications at issue rest upon a rational basis, I