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Frontiero v. Richardson

    Brief Fact Summary. A female Air Force Lieutenant sought increased benefits on the basis of her husband as a dependent, which were refused by the armed services’ policy of only allowing men to claim wives presumptively as dependents.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Gender-based classifications, like racial classifications, must pass strict scrutiny.

    Facts. By statute, a serviceman may claim his wife as a dependent for purposes of qualifying for increased quarters, medical and dental benefits, and other increased support. However, a servicewoman may claim her husband as a dependant only if he is dependent on her for more than half of his support. The Petitioner, Frontiero (Petitioner), alleges that this policy denies her the equal protection of laws afforded by the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution).

    Issue. Does the statute offering different spousal benefits for servicemen on the basis of gender violate the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection?

    Held. Yes. Reversed and remanded.
    Justice William Brennan (J. Brennan) notes that women have a past history of discrimination against them in the United States and thus a requirement of strict scrutiny for gender-based classifications is appropriate.
    The government offered no concrete evidence suggesting that there is any actual administrative time or cost saving by this classification. Even so, J. Brennan notes that, “[W]hen we enter the real of ‘strict judicial scrutiny,’ there can be no doubt that “administrative convenience” is not a shibboleth.”
    Concurrence. Justice Lewis Powell (J. Powell) concurs in the judgment, but disagrees that sex-based classifications are always suspect and subject to strict scrutiny.

    Discussion. J. Brennan argues that gender-based classifications are always subject to strict scrutiny. J. Powell stops short of this, arguing that such a ruling would have far-reaching implications with respect to inherent differences between the sexes.


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