Respondents, three California residents, argued that the newly enacted California statute limiting the maximum welfare benefits available to newly arrived residents violates the Constitution.
The right to travel is protected not only be the new arrival’s status as a state citizen, but also by her status as a citizen of the United States.
In 1992, California enacted a statute limiting the maximum welfare benefits available to newly arrived residents. The scheme 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. Three California residents who were eligible for AFDC benefits challenged the constitutionality of the durational residency requirement in the statute, alleging that they had recently moved to California to live with relatives to escape abusive family circumstances.
Does the California statute limiting the maximum welfare benefits available to newly arrived residents that have resided in the State for less than 12 months violate the Constitution?
Yes, the right to travel is protected by the Constitution. Despite fundamentally differing views concerning the coverage of the Privileges and Immunities Clause, it has always been common ground that this Clause protects the third component of the right to travel. One of the privileges conferred by the Clause is that a citizen of the United States can, of his own volition, become a citizen of any State of the Union by a bona fide residence therein, with the same rights as other citizens of that State.
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. The right to travel and the right to become a citizen are distinct, their relationship is not reciprocal, and one is not a component of the other. Moreover, the durational residence requirement challenged here is a permissible exercise of the State’s power to assure that services provided for its residents are enjoyable only by residents. Also, Congress’ express approval of durational residence requirements for welfare recipients like the one established by California shows that the State has reasonably exercised it through an objective, narrowly tailored residence requirement.
That newly arrived citizens have two political capacities, one state and one federal, adds special force to their claim that they have the same rights as others who share their citizenship. Because this case involves discrimination against citizens who have completed their interstate travel, the State’s argument that its welfare scheme affects the right to travel only incidentally is beside the point. Since the right to travel embraces the citizen’s right to be treated equally in her new State of residence, the discriminatory classification is itself a penalty. Respondents are citizens of California and that their need for welfare benefits is unrelated to the length of time that they have resided in California. Because whatever benefits they receive will be consumed while they remain in California, there is no danger that recognition of their claim will encourage citizens of other States to establish residency for just long enough to acquire some readily profitable benefit, such as divorce or a college education, that will be enjoyed after they return to their original domicile. Also, California has failed to explain not only why it is sound fiscal policy to discriminate against those who have been citizens for less than a year, but also why it is permissible to apply such a variety of rules within that class.