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Law School Case Brief

United States v. Kras - 409 U.S. 434, 93 S. Ct. 631 (1973)

Rule:

Bankruptcy is hardly akin to free speech or marriage or to those other rights, so many of which are imbedded in U.S. Const. amend. I, that are fundamental and that demand the lofty requirement of a compelling governmental interest before they may be significantly regulated. Neither does it touch upon what have been said to be the suspect criteria of race, nationality, or alienage. Instead, bankruptcy legislation is in the area of economics and social welfare. This being so, the applicable standard, in measuring the propriety of Congress' classification, is that of rational justification.

Facts:

Appellee, an indigent who filed a voluntary petition in bankruptcy, sought discharge without payment of the fees, aggregating no more than $50, that are a precondition to discharge in such a proceeding. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, relying primarily on Boddie v. Connecticut, 401 U.S. 371 (where the Court held that a State could not consistently with due process and equal protection requirements, deny access to divorce courts to indigents unable to pay filing and other fees), held the bankruptcy fee provisions of the Bankruptcy Act, 11 U.S.C.S. §§ 68(c)(1), 76(c), and 80(a), as applied to appellee, were an unconstitutional denial of Fifth Amendment rights of due process, including equal protection. The United States sought appellate review. 

Issue:

Did a prior decision in a divorce case holding that a state could not deny access because of poverty to a judicial proceeding that was the only effective means of resolving a dispute extend to no-asset bankruptcy proceedings?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

The United States Supreme Court ruled that a prior decision in a divorce case holding that a state could not deny access because of poverty to a judicial proceeding that was the only effective means of resolving a dispute did not extend to no-asset bankruptcy proceedings. According to the court, an inability to dissolve marriages impaired the freedom to pursue protected associational activities, while an interest in eliminating debt, although important, did not rise to the same constitutional level. No fundamental interest depended on the availability of a discharge in bankruptcy. The government's role with respect to the private commercial relationship was qualitatively and quantitatively different from its role in the establishment, enforcement, and dissolution of marriage. Also, the filing fee did not deny equal protection of the laws where there was a rational justification for the fee provision.

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