Levy v. Louisiana
Decided on May 20, 1968; 391 US 68


I. ISSUES II. CASE SUMMARY III. AMICI CURIAE IV. DECISION V. WIN OR LOSS?
I. ISSUES:

A. Issues Discussed: Equal protection

B. Legal Question Presented:

Is the Louisiana statute, denying illegitimate children "the right to recover" for the wrongful death of their mother, a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

"Appellant sued on behalf of five illegitimate children to recover, under a Louisiana statute (La. Civ. Code Ann. Art. 2315 (Supp. 1967) for two kinds of damages as a result of the wrongful death of their mother: (1) the damages to them for the loss of their mother; and (2) those based on the survival of a cause of action which the mother had at the time of her death for pain and suffering. Appellees are the doctor who treated her and the insurance company.

The trial court dismissed the suit and the Court of Appeal affirmed, holding that a surviving 'child' under the statute did not include an illegitimate child, denial of whose right of recovery was 'based on morals and general welfare because it discourages bringing children into the world out of wedlock.' The State Supreme Court denied certiorari."

On appeal the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

B. Counsel of Record:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable
C. The Arguments:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable
III. AMICI CURIAE:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Briefs of amici curiae urging Briefs of amici curiae, urging reversal, were filed by Leo Pfeffer and Joseph B. Robison for the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church in the U.S. A. et al., and by Harry D. Krause, Jack Greenberg, and Leroy D. [391 U.S. 68, 69] Clark for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., et al.

Norman Dorsen argued the cause for appellant. With him on the brief were Adolph J. Levy, Lawrence J. Smith, and Melvin L. Wulf.

Brief of amicus curiae, urging affirmance, was filed by Mr. Gremillion, pro se, William P. Schuler, Second Assistant Attorney General, and Mrs. Wolbrette and Mr. Clement for the Attorney General of Louisiana.

William A. Porteous III argued the cause for appellees. With him on the brief were Jack P. F. Gremillion, Attorney General of Louisiana, Dorothy D. Wolbrette and L. K. Clement, Jr., Assistant Attorneys General, and William A. Porteous, Jr.

IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

"While a State has broad power when it comes to making classifications, it may not draw a line which constitutes an invidious discrimination against a particular class... [W]e have been extremely sensitive when it comes to basic civil rights... and have not hesitated to strike down an invidious classification even though it had history and tradition on its side...

The rights asserted here involve the intimate, familial relationship between a child and his own mother. When the child's claim of damage for loss of his mother is in issue, why, in terms of 'equal protection,' should the tortfeasors go free merely because the child is illegitimate? Why should the illegitimate child be denied rights merely because of his birth out of wedlock? He certainly is subject to all the responsibilities of a citizen, including the payment of taxes and conscription under the Selective Service Act. How under our constitutional regime can he be denied correlative rights which other citizens enjoy?

Legitimacy or illegitimacy of birth has no relation to the nature of the wrong allegedly inflicted on the mother. These children, though illegitimate, were dependent on her; she cared for them and nurtured them; they were indeed hers in the biological and in the spiritual sense; in her death they suffered wrong in the sense that any dependent would.

We conclude that it is invidious to discriminate against them when no action, conduct, or demeanor of theirs is possibly relevant to the harm that was done the mother." The Supreme Court then reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

Justice Vote: 8 Pro vs. 1 Con

  • Douglas, W. Pro (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Marshall, T.  Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Black, H.  Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Fortas, A. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Brennan, W. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Stewart, P. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • White, B.  Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Warren, E. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Harlan, J. Con (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

    The ACLU, as counsel of record, urged reversal of the judgment of the Court of Appeals; the US Supreme Court reversed the lower court's ruling in an 8-1 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.