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Attorney General of New York v. Soto-Lopez

Citation. 22 Ill.476 U.S. 898, 106 S. Ct. 2317, 90 L. Ed. 2d 899 (1986)
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Brief Fact Summary.

A New York law granted special civil service benefits to veterans who resided within the state when entering the military.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Granting state privileges to older residents and denying those same privileges to new residents violates the equal protection of the laws and the right to travel.


The State of New York, through its Constitution and its Civil Service Law “grants a civil service employment preference, in the form of points added to examination scores, to New York residents who are honorably-discharged veterans of the United States armed forces, who served during time of war, and who were residents of New York when they entered military service. This preference may be exercised only once, either for original hiring or for one promotion . . . .” The Appellees, Soto-Lopez and other United States veterans and “long-time residents of New York,” (Appellees), claim to have met all of the service requirements except New York’s residency requirement. The Appellees were residents of Puerto Rico when they joined the army. The Appellees sued the Appellant, the Attorney General of New York (Appellant), alleging that the residency requirement violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution) and the consti
tutionally protected right to travel . . .” The District Court dismissed the Appellee’s complaint. The Court of Appeals reversed.


Whether a residency requirement imposed on military personnel not living in New York at the time they entered the military violates their equal protection rights and their right to travel.


Justice William Brennan (J. Brennan). Yes. “Whenever a state law infringes a constitutionally protected right, we undertake intensified equal protection scrutiny of that law.” Favoring prior residents over newer residents have called for “careful judicial review.” All of the justifications offered by the state fail to meet heightened scrutiny because all of the justifications “could be promoted fully by granting bonus points to all otherwise qualified veterans.” The residency requirement imposed upon the Appellees violated the Equal Protection Clause and the Appellees right to travel. The judgment is affirmed.


Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (J. O’Connor). “In sum, finding that this scheme in theory or practical effect constitutes a ‘penalty’ on appellees’ fundamental right to settle in New York or on their ‘right to migrate’ seems . . . emphemeral, and completely unnecessary to safeguard the constitutional purpose of ‘maintaining a Union rather than a mere ‘league of States.’”
Concurrence. The concurring opinions are as follows:
Chief Justice Warren Burger (J. Burger). “[H]eightened scrutiny is employed without first determining whether the challenged New York classification would survive even rational basis analysis . . .”
Justice Byron White (J. White). This case does “not sufficiently implicate” the right to travel and thus, this case does not call for heightened scrutiny. The New York statute however denies equal protection because of its “irrational” classification.


States are required to meet the highest level of scrutiny when they apply residency requirements that may prevent a citizen from enjoying the benefits, offered by the state, that other citizens enjoy.

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