Brief Fact Summary. The Alaska Constitution allowed for annual dividends to be paid out to citizens on the basis of the time in which they entered the state.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Creating “permanent sub-classes of residents” requires only a general equal protection analysis.
Such a result would be clearly impermissible.View Full Point of Law
Issue. Whether a statutory scheme by which a State distributes income derived from its natural resources to the adult citizens of the State in varying amounts, based on length of each citizen’s residence, violates the equal protection rights of newer state citizens.
Held. Chief Justice Warren Burger (J. Burger). Yes. The statutory scheme is unconstitutional pursuant to the minimum rationality test. “[T]he first two state objectives – creating a financial incentive for individuals to establish and maintain Alaska residence, and assuring prudent management of the Permanent Fund and the State’s natural and mineral resources – are not rationally related to the distinctions Alaska seeks to make between newer residents and those who have been in the State since 1959.” Also, the states objective that the fund will reward citizens for past contributions is not sufficient to pass the rationality test. The judgment is reversed.
Dissent. Justice William Rehnquist (J. Rehnquist). Alaska’s economic distribution to its citizens is no different than any other economic benefit allocated by a state. This Court has stirred from its traditional holdings that “state economic regulations [to be] presumptively valid . . . .”
Concurrence. The concurring opinions are as follows:
Justice William Brennan (J. Brennan). “[T]he pervasive discrimination embodied in the Alaska distribution scheme gives rise to constitutional concerns of somewhat larger proportions than may be evident on a cursory reading of the Court’s opinion.”
Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (J. O’Connor). “[T]he Court misdirects its criticism [of the constitutional provision] when it labels Alaska’s objective illegitimate. Some objectives may be “wholly reasonable.”
Discussion. Interestingly, the Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) did not classify this case as one requiring strict scrutiny even though it raised issues regarding the right to travel.