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Attorney General of New York v. Soto-Lopez

Citation. 476 U.S. 898, 106 S.Ct. 2317, 90 L.Ed.2d 899 (1986).

Brief Fact Summary.

Plaintiffs were denied employment preference on the basis of a residency statute and filed suit challenging its constitutionality.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The right to travel is protected by the highest level of scrutiny, meaning the sate must pursue a compelling interest which does not impinge unnecessarily on constitutionally protected interests.


The state of New York granted employment preference, in the form of added points to examination score, to New York residents who were honorably discharged veterans of the U.S. armed services, who served during a time of war, and who were residents of New York when they entered military service. Plaintiffs met all the requirements except New York residency. They filed suit, challenging the validity of the statute, arguing on equal protectiongrounds.


Whether a residency requirement imposed on veterans violates the right to travel under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.


Yes. A residency requirement imposed on veterans violates the right to travel under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.


Justice O’Connor

This statute does not constitutionally offend the Equal Protection Clause. It does not penalize some free floating right to migrate. The Privileges and Immunities Clause of Article IV should provide relevant basis instead.


Justice Burger

We should decide this case under rational basis, as precedent dictates. Even still, this statute would not survive.

Justice White

I agree with the dissent that the right to travel is not sufficiently implicated in this case to require heightened scrutiny. The classification, however, is irrational and denies equal protection.


While the benefit sought here may not rise to the same level of importance as the necessities of life and the right to vote, it is unquestionably substantial. A state law implicates the right to travel when it actual deters such travel, when impeding travel is its primary objective, or when it uses any classification which serves to penalize the exercise of that right. Such a permanent deprivation of a significant based only on the fact of nonresidence at a past point in time, clearly operates to penalize Plaintiffs for exercising their rights to migrate. Judgement affirmed.

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