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UNITED STATES V. BURNISON, 339 U. S. 87 (1950)

U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Burnison, 339 U.S. 87 (1950)

United States v. Burnison

No. 171

Argued December 13, 1949

Decided March 13, 1950*

339 U.S. 87


Section 27 of the Probate Code of California, as construed by the highest court of the State, prevents a California domiciliary from making an unrestricted testamentary gift to the United States of property, real or personal, located within the State, although such a gift may be made to the State, its counties or municipal corporations.


1. The construction of the section by the highest court of the State is binding here, but the question of its validity under the Federal Constitution is for this Court to determine. P. 339 U. S. 89.

2. The section, as construed, does not violate the Supremacy Clause of the Federal Constitution. Pp. 339 U. S. 90-93.

(a) The power of the United States to receive testamentary gifts does not preclude a State from denying a testator the right to will his property to the United States. United States v. Fox, 94 U. S. 315. Pp. 339 U. S. 90-93

(b) The Tenth Amendment reserves to the States the power to determine the manner of testamentary transfer of a domiciliary's property and the power to determine who may be made beneficiaries. Pp. 339 U. S. 91-93.

(c) In the determination of the question here involved, no distinction is to be drawn between realty and personalty. P. 339 U. S. 93.

3. The section, as construed, does not discriminate against the United States in violation of the Federal Constitution. Pp. 339 U. S. 93-95.

(a) Decisions upholding the right of persons to sue in state courts on federally created rights are not in point here. Pp. 339 U. S. 93-94.

(b) Assuming that the United States is protected by the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the section is nevertheless justified by the State's close relationship to its residents and their property. P. 339 U. S. 95.

33 Cal.2d 638, 647, 204 P.2d 330, 335, affirmed.

Page 339 U. S. 88

The Supreme Court of California held void under state law certain testamentary gifts to the United States, and directed that the property be distributed to the statutory heirs of each decedent. 33 Cal.2d 638, 647, 204 P.2d 330, 335. On appeal to this Court, affirmed, p. 339 U. S. 95.

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