457 U.S. 55 (1982), 80-1146, Zobel v. Williams

Docket Nº:No. 80-1146
Citation:457 U.S. 55, 102 S.Ct. 2309, 72 L.Ed.2d 672
Party Name:Zobel v. Williams
Case Date:June 14, 1982
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
FREE EXCERPT

Page 55

457 U.S. 55 (1982)

102 S.Ct. 2309, 72 L.Ed.2d 672

Zobel

v.

Williams

No. 80-1146

United States Supreme Court

June 14, 1982

Argued October 7, 1981

APPEAL FROM THE SUPREME COURT OF ALASKA

Syllabus

After Alaska amended its Constitution to establish a Permanent Fund into which the State must deposit at least 25% of its mineral income each year, the state legislature, in 1980, enacted a dividend program to distribute annually a portion of the Fund's earnings directly to the State's adult residents. Under the plan, each adult resident receives one dividend unit for each year of residency subsequent to 1959, the first year of Alaska's statehood. Appellants, residents of Alaska since 1978, brought an action in an Alaska state court challenging the statutory dividend distribution plan as violative of, inter alia, their right to equal protection guarantees. The trial court granted summary judgment in appellants' favor, but the Alaska Supreme Court reversed and upheld the statute.

Held: The Alaska dividend distribution plan violates the guarantees of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 58-65.

(a) Rather than imposing any threshold waiting period for entitlement to dividend benefits or establishing a test of bona fides of state residence, the dividend statute creates fixed, permanent distinctions between an ever-increasing number of classes of concededly bona fide residents based on how long they have lived in the State. Sosna v. Iowa, 419 U.S. 393; Memorial Hospital v. Maricopa County, 415 U.S. 250; Dunn v. Blumstein, 405 U.S. 330; and Shapiro v. Thompson, 394 U.S. 618, distinguished. When a state distributes benefits unequally, the distinctions it makes are subject to scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause, and generally a law will survive that scrutiny if the distinctions rationally further a legitimate state purpose. Pp. 58-61.

(b) Alaska has shown no valid state interests that are rationally served by the distinctions it makes between citizens who established residence before 1959 and those who have become residents since then. Neither the State's claimed interest in creating a financial incentive for individuals to establish and maintain residence in Alaska nor its claimed interest in assuring prudent management of the Permanent Fund is rationally related to such distinctions. And the State's interest in rewarding citizens for past contributions is not a legitimate state purpose. Alaska's reasoning could open the door to state apportionment of other rights, benefits, and services according to length of residency, and would

Page 56

permit the states to divide citizens into expanding numbers of permanent classes. Such a result would be clearly impermissible. Pp. 61-64.

619 P.2d 448, reversed and remanded.

BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and POWELL, JJ., joined, post, p. 65. O'CONNOR, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 71. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 81.

BURGER, J., lead opinion

CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question presented on this appeal is whether a statutory scheme by which a State distributes income derived from its natural resources to the adult citizens of the State in varying amounts, based on the length of each citizen's residence, violates the equal protection rights of newer state citizens. The Alaska Supreme Court sustained the constitutionality of the statute. [102 S.Ct. 2311] 619 P.2d 448 (1980). We stayed the distribution of dividend funds, 449 U.S. 989 (1980), and noted probable jurisdiction, 450 U.S. 908 (1981). We reverse.

I

The 1967 discovery of large oil reserves on state-owned land in the Prudhoe Bay area of Alaska resulted in a windfall to the State. The State, which had a total budget of $124 million in 1969, before the oil revenues began to flow into the state coffers, received $3.7 billion in petroleum revenues during the 1981 fiscal year.1 This income will continue, and

Page 57

most likely grow for some years in the future. Recognizing that its mineral reserves, although large, are finite, and that the resulting income will not continue in perpetuity, the State took steps to assure that its current good fortune will bring long-range benefits. To accomplish this, Alaska, in 1976, adopted a constitutional amendment establishing the Permanent Fund into which the State must deposit at least 25% of its mineral income each year. Alaska Const., Art. IX, § 15. The amendment prohibits the legislature from appropriating any of the principal of the Fund, but permits use of the Fund's earnings for general governmental purposes.

In 1980, the legislature enacted a dividend program to distribute annually a portion of the Fund's earnings directly to the State's adult residents. Under the plan, each citizen 18 years of age or older receives one dividend unit for each year of residency subsequent to 1959, the first year of statehood. The statute fixed the value of each dividend unit at $50 for the 1979 fiscal year; a one-year resident thus would receive one unit, or $50, while a resident of Alaska since it became a State in 1959 would receive 21 units, or $1,050. The value of a dividend unit will vary each year depending on the income of the Permanent Fund and the amount of that income the State allocates for other purposes. The State now estimates that the 1985 fiscal year dividend will be nearly four times as large as that for 1979.

Appellants, residents of Alaska since 1978, brought this suit in 1980 challenging the dividend distribution plan as violative of their right to equal protection guarantees and their constitutional right to migrate to Alaska, to establish residency there, and thereafter to enjoy the full rights of Alaska

Page 58

citizenship on the same terms as all other citizens of the State. The Superior Court for Alaska's Third Judicial District granted summary judgment in appellants' favor, holding that the plan violated the rights of interstate travel and equal protection. A divided Alaska Supreme Court reversed and upheld the statute.2

II

The Alaska dividend distribution law is quite unlike the durational residency requirements we examined in Sosna v. Iowa, 419 U.S. 393 (1975); Memorial Hospital v. Maricopa County, 415 U.S. 250 (1974); Dunn v. Blumstein, 405 U.S. 330 (1972); and Shapiro v. Thompson, 394 U.S. 618 (1969). Those cases involved laws which required new residents to reside in the State a fixed minimum period to be eligible for certain benefits available on an equal basis to all other residents.3 The asserted purpose of the durational residency requirements was to assure that only persons who had established bona fide residence received rights and benefits provided for residents.

The Alaska statute does not impose any threshold waiting period on those seeking dividend benefits; persons with less

Page 59

than a full year of residency are entitled to share in the distribution. Alaska Stat.Ann. § 43.23.010 (Supp.1981).4 Nor does the statute purport to establish a test of the bona fides of state residence. Instead, the dividend statute creates fixed, permanent distinctions between an ever-increasing number of perpetual classes of concededly bona fide residents, based on how long they have been in the State.

Appellants established residence in Alaska two years before the dividend law was passed. The distinction they complain of is not one which the State makes between those who arrived in Alaska after the enactment of the dividend distribution law and those who were residents prior to its enactment. Appellants instead challenge the distinctions made within the class of persons who were residents when the dividend scheme was enacted in 1980. The distinctions appellants attack include the preference given to persons who were residents when Alaska became a State in 1959 over all those who have arrived since then, as well as the distinctions made between all bona fide residents who settled in Alaska at different times during the 1959 to 1980 period.5

Page 60

When a state distributes benefits unequally, the distinctions it makes are subject to scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.6 Generally, a law will survive that [102 S.Ct. 2313] scrutiny if the distinction it makes rationally furthers a legitimate state purpose. Some particularly invidious distinctions are subject to more rigorous scrutiny. Appellants claim that the distinctions made by the Alaska law should be subjected to the higher level of scrutiny applied to the durational residency requirements in Shapiro v. Thompson, supra, and Memorial Hospital v. Maricopa County, supra. The State, on the other hand, asserts that the law need only meet the minimum rationality test. In any event, if the statutory scheme cannot pass even the minimal

Page 61

test proposed by the State, we need not decide whether any enhanced scrutiny is called for.

A

The State advanced and the Alaska Supreme Court accepted three purposes justifying the distinctions made by the dividend program: (a) creation of a financial incentive for individuals to establish and maintain residence in Alaska; (b) encouragement of prudent management of the Permanent Fund; and (c) apportionment of benefits in recognition of undefined "contributions of various kinds, both tangible and intangible, which residents have made during their years of residency," 619 P.2d at 458.7

As the Alaska Supreme Court apparently realized, the first two state objectives -- creating a financial incentive for individuals to establish and maintain...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP