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Graham v. Richardson

Citation. 403 U.S. 365, 91 S.Ct. 1848, 29 L.Ed.2d 534 (1971).

Brief Fact Summary.

Plaintiffs challenged laws prohibiting welfare benefits to resident aliens on the basis of their residency statuses.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The term “person” encompasses lawfully admitted resident aliens as well as citizens of the United States and entitles both citizens and aliens to the equal protection of the laws of the state in which they reside.

Facts.

Arizona passed a law that provided welfare benefits to citizens, but not resident aliens, unless they resided in the U.S. for 15 years. Similarly, a Pennsylvania law excluded aliens from certain state-funded welfare benefits. Plaintiffs brought suits in each state, challenging the respective laws under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

Issue.

Whether a state statute that denies welfare benefits to resident aliens or denies welfare benefits to aliens who have not resided in the United States for a specified number of years violates the Equal Protection Clause.

Held.

Yes. A state statute that denies welfare benefits to resident aliens or denies welfare benefits to aliens who have not resided in the United States for a specified number of years violates the Equal Protection Clause.

Discussion.

Aliens as a class, like race and nationality, are a prime example of a discrete and insular minority for whom such heightened scrutiny is appropriate. Accordingly, the power of a state to apply its laws exclusively to its alien inhabitants as a class is confined within narrow limits.

A state’s desire to preserve limited welfare benefits for its own citizens is an inadequate justification. There can be no special public interest in tax revenues to which aliens have contributed on an equal basis with residents of the state.


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