The Law School Authority

Mathews v. Lucas Case Brief

Summary of Mathews v. Lucas

Facts: Social Security Act gives survivor benefits to legitimate children automatically but illegitimate children must prove that the deceased was their parent and that the illegitimate child was either living with or monetarily dependent on the parent.  P failed to prove dependency.  

P contends that since legitimate children are entitled to survivor benefits regardless of actual dependency, yet illegitimates must prove dependency, there is a DPC violation. 

D says that the distinction serves the purpose of administrative convenience (presuming dependency in the vast majority of cases avoids the burdensome process of doing case-by-case analysis).  

Procedural History: District Court concluded that the illegitimacy classification is suspect.  Statute is unconstitutional.

Holding: The statute is not unconstitutional.  The classification gets a lower level of scrutiny.

Reasoning: Illegitimacy is like race or sex in that it’s an immutable characteristic and it bears no relation to the person’s ability to perform in society.  It is unlike race and sex in that the stigma is mostly on the parents for having out of wedlock children and also discrimination based on legitimacy is not historically pervasive.

Therefore, legitimacy as a classification doesn’t deserve the strictest scrutiny.  Intermediate instead?

Here, it is reasonable to assume that where there is legitimacy there is dependency.  Further, the statute doesn’t say that illegitimate children never are allowed to get benefits, it just says that they must show some proof.  Therefore, the statute is carefully tuned to alternative considerations, it doesn’t broadly says that illegitimacy never can equal dependency.  

Judgment: Reversed.


Dissent: Whether the child is legitimate or not is only tenuously related to the child’s dependency.  Further, there is a history of discrimination against illegitimate children.  Just because illegitimacy isn’t as an apparent characteristic like sex or race to an observer doesn’t mean that the classification should get any less scrutiny. 

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