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Saenz v. Roe

Citation. 526 U.S. 489, 119 S.Ct. 1518, 143 L.Ed.2d 689 (1999).

Brief Fact Summary.

Plaintiffs challenged denial of welfare benefits, arguing the residency requirement was unconstitutional.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Under the Privileges and Immunities Clause, a state must provide the same benefits to newly arrived citizens of a state as those enjoyed by other citizens of the state.


California enacted a statute limiting welfare benefits for families that had resided in the state for less than 12 months. The families would receive the same amount received in their last state of residence. Plaintiffs, who had recently moved to California, challenged the constitutionality of the law.


Whether the California residency requirement violates the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the 14th Amendment.


Yes. The California residency requirement violates the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the 14th Amendment.


Justice Rehnquist

I cannot see how the right to become the citizen of another state is a necessary component of the right to travel, or why the Court tries to marry these separate and distinct rights. California has reasonably exercised its power through an objective, narrowly tailored residence requirement and I see no constitutional reason to strike it down.

Justice Thomas

The majority is attributing a meaning to the Privileges and Immunities Clause that was unintended when the amendment was enacted and ratified.


The right to travel protects the right of a citizen of one state to enter and to leave another state, the right to be treated as a welcome visitor rather than an unfriendly alien, and, for those travelers who elect to become permanent residents, the right to be treated like other citizens of that state.

While California has a compelling state interest in saving money, there is no rationale to discriminate among equally eligible citizens. Prior citizenship in other states has no relevance to the need for benefits. Citizens, whether rich or poor, have the right to choose to be citizens of the state wherein they reside. The states, however, do not have any right to select their citizens. Judgement affirmed.

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