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Saenz v. Roe

Citation. 526 U.S. 489, 119 S.Ct. 1518, 143 L.Ed.2d 689 (1999).
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Brief Fact Summary.

California enacted a law limiting the maximum welfare benefits for citizens who lived in California for less than 12 months. Plaintiffs challenged the law.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Under the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the U.S. Constitution, a state must provide the same benefits to new residents as it does to other residents.


In an effort to reduce the state welfare budget, in 1992 California enacted a law limiting the maximum welfare benefits for citizens who lived in California for less than 12 months. The welfare family would be paid the amount they received in their last state of residence. The Plaintiffs, recently moved to California and challenged the law on equal protection grounds.


Is the California law constitutional?


No, the California law unconstitutionally violates the Privileges and Immunities Clause.


Justice Rehnquist

I cannot see how the right to become a citizen of another states is a necessary component of the right to travel, or why the Court tries to marry these separate and distinct rights. A person is no longer “traveling” in any sense of the word when he finishes his journey to a state which he plans to make his home. This Court has essentially conflated the right to travel with the right to equal state citizenship in striking down durational residence requirements similar to the one challenged here.

The durational residence requirement challenged here is a permissible exercise of the state’s power to “assure[e] that services provided for its residents are enjoyed only by residents.”


The right to travel protects the right of a citizen of one state to enter and to leave another state, the right to be treated as a welcome visitor rather than an unfriendly alien when temporarily present in the second state, and the right to be treated like other citizens of that state. What is at issue here is the third aspect of the right to travel–the right of the newly arrived citizen to the same privileges and immunities enjoyed by other citizens of the same state.

As such, strict scrutiny review is applicable here. California posits the compelling governmental interest of saving money, given that the law at issue will save the state approximately $10.9 million a year. This is a legitimate and compelling purpose. However, the state’s legitimate interest in saving money provides no justification for its decision to discriminate among equally eligible citizens. Neither the duration of Plaintiffs’ California residence, nor the identity of their prior states of residence, has any relevance to their need for benefits.

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