A year before this decision, the Supreme Court had refused, in Mathews v. Lucas (1976), to hold that ILLEGITIMACY was a SUSPECT CLASSIFICATION requiring strict judicial scrutiny. In Trimble, a 5?4 majority invalidated an Illinois law that prevented illegitimate children from inheriting from their fathers who had not made wills. Discriminations based on illegitimacy, said Justice LEWIS F. POWELL for the majority, must be "carefully attuned to alternative considerations." Although paternity might be hard to prove in some cases, wholesale disinheritance of illegitimate children was unjustified. In this case a judicial paternity proceeding had determined the decedent to be the father.
Justice WILLIAM H. REHNQUIST dissented at length, criticizing the development of modern EQUAL PROTECTION doctrine. Except for classifications based on race or national origin, he would abandon all forms of STRICT SCRUTINY, requiring no more than a RATIONAL BASIS for legislative discrimination. Laws classifying according to legitimacy of parentage deserved no more heightened judicial scrutiny than did "other laws regulating economic and social conditions."