Califano v. Boles: Unequal Protection for Illegitimate Children and Their Mothers


In recent years, the Supreme Court’s stand on the constitutional status of illegitimates has been decidedly ambiguous. In the Court’s early consideration of equal protection claims alleging discrimination against illegitimates, notably Weber v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co., Levy v. Louisiana, and Glona v. American Guarantee & Liability Insurance Co., the Court ostensibly refused to apply to such claims the strict scrutiny afforded claims of discrimination against suspect classes such as race. The Court claimed to be measuring these claims against a mere minimum rationality standard, under which any classification based “upon a state of facts that reasonably can be conceived to constitute a distinction, or difference in [government] policy” would be upheld. In fact, however, the standard against which the Court measured these illegitimacy claims was significantly more strict than that of minimum rationality. Indeed, at least one commentator has argued that in these decisions the Court was actually applying a strict standard of scrutiny despite its reluctance to label illegitimacy as a suspect class. Later decisions, however, such as Mathews v. Lucas and Lalli v. Lalli, have retreated from this stance. The Court in these decisions has upheld the constitutionality of challenged statutes on the grounds that the illegitimacy-based classification bears a rational relationship to a legitimate governmental interest, regardless of whether alternative means exist which might serve that interest with a less discriminatory impact on illegitimates as a class.

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