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Shapiro v. Thompson

Law Dictionary
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Constitutional Law Keyed to Stone

Citation. 394 U.S. 618, 89 S. Ct. 1322, 22 L. Ed. 2d 600, 1969 U.S. 3190.

Brief Fact Summary. Certain states enacted statutes denying welfare assistance to residents who had not lived in their jurisdictions for at least one year. The constitutionality of the statutes is brought into question.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. One year waiting requirements for eligibility to a State’s welfare benefits violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment inasmuch as they impose upon the fundamental right to travel.


Facts. Appellants, certain states and the District of Columbia, enacted statutes denying welfare assistance to residents who had not lived resided their jurisdictions for at least one year immediately preceding such residents’ requests for assistance. The primary purpose for the waiting periods was to preserve the fiscal integrity of the Appellants’ public assistance programs (additional purposes are listed were relevant in the reasoning section below). Thus, the programs were targeted at keeping needy newcomers out on the theory that such persons were more likely to become continuing burdens on State welfare programs.

Issue. Did the laws restricting welfare benefits to those who had lived in a location for at least one year constitute a violation of equal protection?

Held. Yes. The lower court is affirmed.
The effect of the waiting period is to create two classes of people from a group of similarly situated residents on the basis of whether a resident has lived in a State for a least one year. This type of distinction, absent a compelling governmental interest, constitutes an unconstitutional lack of equal protection of the laws which the Fourteenth Amendment forbids.
Moreover, the objective of the waiting period, deterring the in-migration of indigents into states, is patently unconstitutional. The nature of our federal union and our constitutional concepts of personal liberty coalesce to require that all citizens be free to travel throughout our land uninhibited by laws that restrict this type of movement.
The states cannot justify the policy on the grounds that it keeps indigents out who would otherwise move to a state solely to obtain benefits. Such a person is no less deserving of the right to move than is a mother who moves solely for the sake of securing better educational facilities for her children.
The policy cannot be justified on the grounds that it distinguishes between new and old residents based on the local tax contributions each has made to their community. Otherwise, the same reasoning could be used to deny newcomers of schools, parks, firemen and police services, which would be clearly unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The justification that the waiting periods promote administrative efficiency cannot withstand judicial scrutiny, because (1) saving governmental resources is not a compelling governmental interest, and (2) less drastic means could have been employed to prevent the fraudulent receipt of benefits.

Dissent. Chief Justice Warren: Congress has authorized the States to impose residence requirements. Therefore, the question before us should have been framed in terms of whether Congress may create minimal residence requirements, not whether the states acting alone, may do so. Certainly, Congress, through the states, may impose these residence requirements pursuant to its Commerce Clause powers.
Justice Harlan: It’s the Due Process Clause that’s implicated by an imposition on the right to travel, not the Equal Protection Clause. Since the governmental interests outweigh the burden imposed in this case with regard to the residence requirements, I believe that the waiting periods are constitutional.
Concurrence. Justice Stewart: The Supreme Court of the United States here simply recognizes an established constitutional right and gives to that right no less protection than the United States Constitution demands.

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Discussion. The Supreme Court approaches this case methodologically by declaring (1) that the right to travel is a fundamental right and (2) that a classification is made here on the basis of the same right, thereby requiring the Supreme Court, pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment, to evaluate the classification with strict scrutiny standard of review.
The Supreme Court does not locate a source in the United States Constitution to support the proposition that the right to travel is fundamental, however. Later, in Saenz v. Roe, the Supreme Court will locate such a source in the Privileges and Immunities Clause.
One question why the Fourteenth Amendment is implicated by the residence requirements at issue here, when the States could have abolished their welfare programs altogether consistent with the Equal Protection Clause.

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