403 U.S. 365 (1971), 609, Graham v. Department of Pub. Welfare

Docket Nº:No. 609
Citation:403 U.S. 365, 91 S.Ct. 1848, 29 L.Ed.2d 534
Party Name:Graham v. Department of Pub. Welfare
Case Date:June 14, 1971
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 365

403 U.S. 365 (1971)

91 S.Ct. 1848, 29 L.Ed.2d 534



Department of Pub. Welfare

No. 609

United States Supreme Court

June 14, 1971

Argued March 22, 1971




State statutes, like the Arizona and Pennsylvania statutes here involved, that deny welfare benefits to resident aliens or to aliens who have not resided in the United States for a specified number of years are violative of the Equal Protection Clause and encroach upon the exclusive federal power over the entrance and residence of aliens; and there is no authorization for Arizona's 15-year durational residency requirement in § 1402(b) of the Social Security Act. Pp. 370-383.

313 F.Supp. 34 and 321 F.Supp. 250, affirmed.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BLACK, DOUGLAS, BRENNAN, STEWART, WHITE, and MARSHALL, JJ., joined. HARLAN, J., filed a statement joining in the judgment and in Parts III and IV of the Court's opinion, post, p. 383.

Page 366

BLACKMUN, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN delivered the opinion of the Court.

These are welfare cases. They provide yet another aspect of the widening litigation in this area.1 The issue here is whether the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prevents a State from conditioning welfare benefits either (a) upon the beneficiary's possession of United States citizenship, or (b) if the beneficiary is an alien, upon his having resided in this country for a specified number of years. The facts are not in dispute.


No. 609. This case, from Arizona, concerns the State's participation in federal categorical assistance programs. These programs originate with the Social Security Act

Page 367

of 1935, 49 Stat. 620, as amended, 42 U.S.C. c. 7. They are supported in part by federal grants-in-aid, and are administered by the States under federal guidelines. Arizona Rev.Stat.Ann., Tit. 46, Art. 2, as amended, provides for assistance to persons permanently and totally disabled (APTD). See 42 U.S.C. §§ 1351-1355. Arizona Rev.Stat.Ann. § 46-233 (Supp. 1970-1971), as amended in 1962, reads:

A. No person shall be entitled to general assistance who does not meet and maintain the following requirements:

1. Is a citizen of the United States, or has resided in the United States a total of fifteen years. . . .

A like eligibility provision conditioned upon citizenship or durational residence appears in § 46-252(2), providing old-age assistance, and in § 46-272(4), providing assistance to the needy blind. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 1201-1206, 1381-1385.

Appellee Carmen Richardson, at the institution of this suit in July, 1969, was 64 years of age. She is a lawfully admitted [91 S.Ct. 1850] resident alien. She emigrated from Mexico in 1956, and, since then, has resided continuously in Arizona. She became permanently and totally disabled. She also met all other requirements for eligibility for APTD benefits except the 15-year residency specified for aliens by § 46-233(A)(1). She applied for benefits, but was denied relief solely because of the residency provision.

Mrs. Richardson instituted her class action2 in the District of Arizona against the Commissioner of the State's Department of Public Welfare seeking declaratory relief, an injunction against the enforcement of §§ 46-233(A)(1),

Page 368

4252(2), and 46-272(4), and the award of amounts allegedly due. She claimed that Arizona's alien residency requirements violate the Equal Protection Clause and the constitutional right to travel; that they conflict with the Social Security Act, and are thus overborne by the Supremacy Clause; and that the regulation of aliens has been preempted by Congress.

The three-judge court upheld Mrs. Richardson's motion for summary judgment on equal protection grounds. Richardson v. Graham, 313 F.Supp. 34 (Ariz.1970). It did so in reliance on this Court's opinions in Takahashi v. Fish & Game Comm'n, 334 U.S. 410 (1948), and Shapiro v. Thompson, 394 U.S. 618 (1969). The Commissioner appealed. The judgment was stayed as to all parties plaintiff other than Mrs. Richardson. Probable jurisdiction was noted. 400 U.S. 956 (1970).

No. 727. This case, from Pennsylvania, concerns that portion of a general assistance program that is not federally supported. The relevant statute is § 432(2) of the Pennsylvania Public Welfare Code, Pa.Stat.Ann., Tit. 62, § 432(2) (1968),3 originally enacted in 1939. It provides that those eligible for assistance shall be (1) needy persons who qualify under the federally supported categorical assistance programs, and (2) those other needy persons who are citizens of the United States Assistance to the latter group is funded wholly by the Commonwealth.

Page 369

Appellee Elsie Mary Jane Leger is a lawfully admitted resident alien. She was born in Scotland in 1937. She came to this country in 1965 at the age of 28 under contract for domestic service with a family in Havertown. She has resided continuously in Pennsylvania since then, and has been a taxpaying resident of the Commonwealth. In 1967, she left her domestic employment to accept more remunerative work in Philadelphia. She entered into a common law marriage with a United States citizen. In 1969, illness forced both Mrs. Leger and her husband to give up their employment. They applied for public assistance. Each was ineligible under the federal programs. Mr. Leger, however, qualified for aid under the state program. Aid to Mrs. Leger was denied because of her alienage. The monthly grant to Mr. Leger was less than the amount determined by both federal and Pennsylvania authorities as necessary for a minimum standard of living in Philadelphia for a family of two.

[91 S.Ct. 1851] Mrs. Leger instituted her class action4 in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania against the Executive Director of the Philadelphia County Board of Assistance and the Secretary of the Commonwealth's Department of Public Welfare. She sought declaratory relief, an injunction against the enforcement of the restriction of § 432(2), and the ordering of back payments wrongfully withheld. She obtained a temporary restraining order preventing the defendants from continuing to deny her assistance. She then began to receive, and still receives, with her husband, a public assistance grant.

Appellee Beryl Jervis was added as a party plaintiff to

Page 370

the Leger action. She was born in Panama in 1912, and is a citizen of that country. In March, 1968, at the age of 55, she came to the United States to undertake domestic work under contract in Philadelphia. She has resided continuously in Pennsylvania since then, and has been a taxpaying resident of the Commonwealth. After working as a domestic for approximately one year, she obtained other, more remunerative, work in the city. In February, 1970 illness forced her to give up her employment. She applied for aid. However, she was ineligible for benefits under the federally assisted programs, and she was denied general assistance solely because of her alienage. Her motion for immediate relief through a temporary restraining order was denied.

It was stipulated that

the denial of General Assistance to aliens otherwise eligible for such assistance causes undue hardship to them by depriving them of the means to secure the necessities of life, including food, clothing and shelter,

and that

the citizenship bar to the receipt of General Assistance in Pennsylvania discourages continued residence in Pennsylvania of indigent resident aliens, and causes such needy persons to remove to other States which will meet their needs.

The three-judge court, one judge dissenting, ruled that § 432(2) was violative of the Equal Protection Clause, and enjoined its further enforcement. Leer v. Sailer, 321 F.Supp. 250 (ED Pa.1970). The defendants appealed. Probable jurisdiction was noted. 400 U.S. 956.


The appellants argue initially that the States, consistent with the Equal Protection Clause, may favor United States citizens over aliens in the distribution of welfare benefits. It is said that this distinction involves no "invidious discrimination" such as was condemned in

Page 371

King v. Smith, 392 U.S. 309 (1968), for the State is not discriminating with respect to race or nationality.

The Fourteenth Amendment provides,

[N]or shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

It has long been settled, and it is not disputed here, that the term "person" in this context 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. Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356, 369 (1886); Truax v. Raich, 239 U.S. 33, 39 (1915); Takahashi v. Fish & Game Comm'n, 334 U.S. at 420. Nor is it disputed that the Arizona and Pennsylvania statutes in question create two classes of needy persons, indistinguishable except with respect to whether they are or are not citizens of this country. Otherwise [91 S.Ct. 1852] qualified United States citizens living in Arizona are entitled to federally funded categorical assistance benefits without regard to length of national residency, but aliens must have lived in this country for 15 years in order to qualify for aid. United States citizens living in Pennsylvania, unable to meet the requirements for federally funded benefits, may be eligible for state supported general assistance, but resident aliens as a class are precluded from that assistance.

Under traditional equal protection principles, a State retains broad discretion to classify as long as its classification has a reasonable basis. Lindsley v. Natural Carbonic Gas Co., 220 U.S. 61, 78 (1911); Williamson v. Lee Optical Co., 348 U.S....

To continue reading