PARHAM v. HUGHES
Curtis Parham’s child and the child’s mother were killed in a car accident. Parham was never married to the child’s mother, but he signed the child’s birth certificate and provided financial support. Parham never legitimated his child as available under Georgia law. After the child’s death, Parham attempted to bring a wrongful death action on behalf of his illegitimate child. A Georgia statute barred fathers from bringing wrongful death actions on behalf of illegitimate children. The trial court held that the law violated the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the 14th Amendment. The Supreme Court of Georgia reversed, finding that the classification involved was reasonably related to legitimate state interests.
Does the Georgia statute prohibiting biological fathers from bringing wrongful death actions on behalf of illegitimate children violate the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the 14th Amendment?
Legal provision: Equal Protection
No. In a 5-4 decision the Court held that the law does not violate the Equal Protection or Due Process clause. Justice Potter Stewart wrote for the majority deciding that the statute did not invidiously discriminate because legitimacy is not an immutable characteristic. The law is also rationally related to the state interest in avoiding the difficulties in proving paternity of illegitimate children in wrongful death actions. Justice Lewis F. Powell concurred in the judgment but felt the proper level of scrutiny was that a law must be substantially related to an important governmental interest.
Justice Byron R. White wrote a dissent stating that the statute discriminates on the basis of sex by requiring unmarried fathers to take additional measures not required of unwed mothers in order to prove the legitimacy of his parenthood. Justice William J. Brennan, Justice Thurgood Marshall, and Justice Harry A. Blackmun joined in the dissent.