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Saenz v. Roe

    Brief Fact Summary. A California statute required new citizens to endure a durational residency waiting period before they could receive welfare benefits.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Durational residency requirements imposed by a state on its new residents require a heightened standard of review.

    Facts. In 1992, California enacted a statute limiting the maximum welfare benefits available to newly arrived residents. The plan limits the amount payable to a family that has resided in the State for less than 12 months to the amount payable by the State of the family’s prior residence. The law limited new residents, for the first year that they live in California, to the benefits they would have received in the State of their prior residence. The law was challenged by the Respondents, Roe and other new California residents (Respondents). The California residents argued that the law was unconstitutional because their benefits would be substantially lower under the statute than what they could receive if the statute did not exist. The District Court enjoined the implementation of the statute and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

    Issue. Whether the imposition of a durational residency, waiting period on receiving a state’s approved welfare benefits violates the constitution.

    Held. Justice John Paul Stevens (J. Stevens). Yes. The durational residency requirement violated the equal protection of the law and hinders the right to travel. New citizens of all states have the rights “to the same privileges and immunities enjoyed by other citizens of the same State. That right is protected not only by the new arrival’s status as a state citizen, but also by her status as a citizen of the United States.” New York provides not compelling reason for its classifications of new residents. The judgment is therefore affirmed.

    Dissent. The dissenting opinions are as follows:
    Justice William Rehnquist (C.J. Rehnquist). There is no clear connection between “the right to become a citizen of another State” and “the right to travel.”
    Justice Clarence Thomas (J. Thomas). “[B]efore invoking the [Privileges and Immunities] Clause . . . we should endeavor to understand what the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment thought that it meant. We should consider whether the Clause should displace, rather than augment, portions of our equal protection and substantive due process jurisprudence.” By not making these considerations, the Privileges and Immunities Clause “will become yet another convenient tool for inventing new rights limited solely to the ‘predilections of those who happen at the time to be Members of this court.’”

    Discussion. The Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) seems to be on a trend in its use of equal protection and the right to travel as a means for invalidating residency requirements that prevent new state residents from enjoying benefits offered to older state residents.


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