Levy v. Louisiana

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Levy v. Louisiana
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued March 27, 1968
Decided May 20, 1968
Full case name Louise Levy, Administratrix
Louisiana through the Charity Hospital of Louisiana at New Orleans Board of Administrators, et al.
Citations 391 U.S. 68 (more)
The right of recovery may not be denied merely because a person is the illegitimate child of the deceased, because such a law would violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Douglas, joined by Warren, Brennan, White, Fortas, Marshall
Dissent Harlan, joined by Black, Stewart
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. XIV

Levy v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 68 (1968), is a decision of the Supreme Court of the United States. This decision deals primarily with the civil rights of illegitimate children, specifically in regards to their ability to sue on a deceased parent's behalf. It held that the right of recovery may not be denied merely because a person is the illegitimate child of the deceased, because such a law would violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.


Louise Levy was the mother of five children, all of them born out of wedlock. She cared for these children herself, maintaining with them a relationship much like any other "typical" household. Due to alleged malpractice by Levy's doctor at the Charity Hospital of Louisiana at New Orleans, Louise Levy died. The appellant, on behalf of Levy's children, sought damages for Levy's wrongful death, as well as damages regarding an unsettled case that Levy had not lived to see settled.

The Louisiana District Court dismissed the suit. On appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal, citing Louisiana statute defining a "child," for purposes of damage recovery, as a legitimate child. As these children were born outside of marriage, the courts deemed that they had no standing to sue on Levy's behalf. The Court of Appeals also defended its affirmation, claiming that the law was sound because it furthered the government interest of maintaining morals and general welfare by discouraging bearing children out of wedlock. The Supreme Court of Louisiana denied certiorari, and the case was finally appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court on constitutional grounds. Specifically, the appellant claimed that the Louisiana law violated the Fourteenth Amendment, and was therefore invalid.

The Decision[edit]

The 6-3 decision in favor of Levy's children was delivered on Monday, May 20, 1968. Justice Douglas authored the majority opinion, which was joined by Chief Justice Warren and Associate Justices Brennan, White, Fortas, and Marshall. The Court stated that the children involved in this case were clearly "persons" under the Fourteenth Amendment, which entitled them to its full protection. The Court noted that, while states do enjoy substantial powers to make classifications, states are not permitted to classify in a way that constitutes "invidious discrimination against a particular class." The objective nature of the "invidious discrimination" test was not clearly outlined, but the Court stated that the classifications states made had to be, at the least, rational.

The Court continued to note the deference it has historically given to the legislature regarding its ability to draft law. However, when basic civil rights are involved, the Court said it has freely struck down "invidious discrimination," even laws with "history and tradition on [their] side." One precedent cited to this effect was the decision the Court made in Brown v. Board of Education, a landmark case in American civil rights. In the case at hand, the Court attacked the inappropriateness of the Louisiana statute, saying that the children's legitimacy had no bearing on their relationship to their mother. The statute was declared unconstitutional, and the decision of the lower courts was reversed.

Justice Harlan authored a dissenting opinion, which was joined by Justices Black and Stewart.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Krause, Harry D. (1969). "Legitimate and Illegitimate Offspring of Levy v. Louisiana: First Decisions on Equal Protection and Paternity". The University of Chicago Law Review. The University of Chicago Law Review. 36 (2): 338–363. doi:10.2307/1598823. JSTOR 1598823. 

External links[edit]