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Kahn v. Shevin

Citation. 416 U.S. 351, 94 S.Ct. 1734, 40 L.Ed.2d 189 (1974).

Brief Fact Summary.

Plaintiff challenges Florida statute allowing property tax exemptions for widows, but not widowers.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Where state taxation is concerned, there is no federal right, apart from equal protection, and states have large leeway in making classifications and drawing lines.


A Florida statute allowed for widows to claim a property tax exemption, following the death of their husbands. Plaintiff’s wife died and Plaintiff filed for an exemption under the law. He was denied because the law only applied to widows, not widowers. Plaintiff filed suit, alleging the statute violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.


Whether a state tax law that discriminates in favor of a certain class of people is constitutional.


Yes. A state tax law that discriminates in favor of a certain class of people is constitutional.


Justice Brennan

Legislation that focuses on a generally immutable characteristic should be subjected to close judicial scrutiny. Here, while the statute serves a compelling governmental interest, it is invalid because the state’s interest can be served equally well by a more narrowly drafted statute. The statute is plainly overinclusive. Defendant have failed to satisfy the requirement of Equal Protection.

Justice White

There is merit in giving poor widows a tax break, but sex-based classifications are suspect and require more justification than Defendant has offered. It seems to me an economic benefit int he form of a tax exemption is being conferred without adequate explanation on why women should be treated differently than men.


We have long held a state tax law is not arbitrary although it discriminates in favor of a certain class if the discrimination is founded upon a reasonable distinction that does not to conflict with the Constitution, including the Equal Protection Clause. This principle applies here as well. The statute is well within those limits. Judgement affirmed.

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