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Frontiero v. Richardson

Citation. 411 U.S. 677, 93 S.Ct. 1764, 36 L.Ed.2d 583 (1973).

Brief Fact Summary.

Plaintiff’s attempt to claim husband as a dependent was denied. She challenged the difference in treatment between service men and servicewomen.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Classification based on sex are suspect and are subject to strict scrutiny.

Facts.

Several U.S. statues allowed for a serviceman to claim his wife as a dependent without regard to whether she was in fact dependent upon him. A servicewoman, however, was not allowed to claim her husband as a dependent unless he was in fact dependent upon her for over 0ne-half support.

Plaintiff sought an increase of benefits for her husband on the ground that he was her dependent. Such benefits would have automatically been granted with respect to he wife of a male member of the uniformed services. Her application was denied and she brought suit challenging the distinction as sex discrimination in violation of the Due Process Clause of the 5th Amendment.

Issue.

Whether differential treatment between servicemen and servicewomen on the allocation of dependent benefits violates the Due Process Clause of the 5th Amendment.

Held.

Yes. Differential treatment between servicemen and servicewomen on the allocation of dependent benefits violates the Due Process Clause of the 5th Amendment.

Concurrence.

Justice Powell

I agree the statutes violate the Due Process Clause of the 5th Amendment. It is unnecessary in this case, however, to classify sex as a suspect classification. We can decide this case on the narrow authority of Reed.

Discussion.

Sex, like race and national origin, is an immutable characteristic determined solely by the accident of birth. Sex frequently bears no relation to ability to perform or contribute to society. As a result, statutory distinction between the sexes often have the effect of invidiously relegating the entire class of females to inferior legal status without the actual capabilities of its individual members.

The government offers no concrete evidence to support its view that such differential treatment in fact saves any money. There is also substantive evidence here that many of the wives of male members would fail to qualify for benefits if subjected to the same application process. Judgement reversed.


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