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.
On the contrary, any statutory scheme which draws a sharp line between the sexes, solely for the purpose of achieving administrative convenience, necessarily commands dissimilar treatment for men and women who are similarly situated, and therefore involves the very kind of arbitrary legislative choice forbidden by the Constitution.View Full Point of Law
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.