Kahn v. Shevin 8212 78, No. 73

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtDOUGLAS
Citation94 S.Ct. 1734,416 U.S. 351,40 L.Ed.2d 189
PartiesMel KAHN, Etc., Appellant, v. Robert L. SHEVIN et al. —78
Docket NumberNo. 73
Decision Date24 April 1974

416 U.S. 351
94 S.Ct. 1734
40 L.Ed.2d 189
Mel KAHN, Etc., Appellant,

v.

Robert L. SHEVIN et al.

No. 73—78.
Argued Feb. 25, 26, 1974.
Decided April 24, 1974.

Syllabus

A Florida statute grants widows an annual $500 property tax exemption. Appellant, a widower, was denied an exemption because the statute offers no analogous benefit for widowers. He then sought a declaratory judgment in county Circuit Court, which held the statute violative of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Florida Supreme Court reversed, finding the classification 'widow' valid because it has a 'fair and substantial relation to the object of the legislation' of reducing 'the disparity between the economic capabilities of a man and a woman.' Held:

1. The challenged tax law is reasonably designed to further the state policy of cushioning the financial impact of spousal loss upon the sex for whom that loss imposes a disproportionately heavy burden. Frontiero v. Richardson, 411 U.S. 677, 93 S.Ct. 1764, 36 L.Ed.2d 583, distinguished. P. 355.

2. A state tax law is not arbitrary although it 'discriminate(s) in favor of a certain class . . . if the discrimination is founded upon a reasonable distinction, or difference in state policy,' and the statute here is well within those limits. Pp. 355—356.

273 So.2d 72, affirmed.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, New York City, for appellant.

Sydney H. McKenzie, III, Tallahassee, Fla., for appellees.

Page 352

Mr. Justice DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

Since at least 1885, Florida has provided for some form of property tax exemption for widows.1 The current law granting all widows an annual $500 exemption, Fla.Stat. § 196.202 (Supp.1974 1975), F.S.A., has been essentially unchanged since 1941.2 Appellant Kahn is a widower who lives in Florida and applied for the exemption to the Date County Tax Assessor's Office. It was denied because the statute offers no analogous benefit for widowers. Kahn then sought a declaratory judgment in the Circuit Court for Dade County, Florida, and that court held the statute violative of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because the classification 'widow' was based upon gender. The Florida Supreme Court reversed, finding the classification valid because it has a "fair and substantial relation to the object of the legislation,"3 that object being the reduction of 'the disparity between the economic capabilities of a man and a woman.' Kahn appealed here, 28 U.S.C. § 1257(2), and we noted probable jurisdiction, 414 U.S. 973, 94 S.Ct. 283, 38 L.Ed.2d 216. We affirmed.

Page 353

There can be no dispute that the financial difficulties confronting the lone woman in Florida or in any other State exceed those facing the man. Whether from overt discrimination or from the socialization process of a male-dominated culture, the job market is inhospitable to the woman seeking any but the lowest paid jobs.4 There are, of course, efforts under way to remedy this situation. On the federal level, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits covered employers and labor unions from discrimination on the basis of sex, 78 Stat. 253, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e—2(a), (c), as does the Equal Pay Act of 1963, 77 Stat. 56, 29 U.S.C. § 206(d). But firmly entrenched practices are resistant to such pressures, and, indeed, data compiled by the Women's Bureau of the United States Department of Labor show that in 1972 a woman working full time had a median income which was only 57.9% of the median for males—a figure actually six points lower than had been achieved in 1955.5 Other date point in the same direc-

Page 354

tion.6 The disparity is likely to be exacerbated for the widow. While the widower can usually continue in the occupation which preceded his spouse's death, in many cases the widow will find herself suddenly forced into a job market with which she is unfamiliar, and in which, because of her former economic dependency, she will have fewer skills to offer.7

Page 355

There can be no doubt, therefore, that Florida's differing treatment of widows and widowers "rest(s) upon some ground of difference having a fair and substantial relation to the object of the legislation." Reed v. Reed, 404 U.S. 71, 76, 92 S.Ct. 251, 254, quoting Royster Guano Co. v. Virginia, 253 U.S. 412, 415, 40 S.Ct. 560, 561, 64 L.Ed. 989.

This is not a case like Frontiero v. Richardson, 411 U.S. 677, 93 S.Ct. 1764, 36 L.Ed.2d 583, where the Government denied its female employees both substantive and procedural benefits granted males 'solely . . . for administrative convenience.' Id., at 690, 93 S.Ct. at 1772 (emphasis in original).8 We deal here with a state tax law reasonably designed to further the state policy of cushioning the financial impact of spousal loss upon the sex for which that loss imposes a disproportionately heavy burden. We have long held that '(w)here taxation is concerned and no specific federal right, apart from equal protection, is imperilled, the States have large leeway in making classifications and drawing lines which in their judgment produce reasonable systems of taxation.' Lehnhausen v. Lake Shore Auto Parts Co., 410 U.S. 356, 359, 93 S.Ct. 1001, 1003, 35 L.Ed.2d 351. A state tax law is not arbitrary although it 'discriminate(s) in favor of a certain class . . . if the discrimination is founded upon a reasonable distinction, or difference in state policy,' not in conflict with the Federal Constitution. Allied Stores v. Bowers, 358 U.S. 522, 528, 79 S.Ct. 437, 441, 3 L.Ed.2d 480. This principle has weathered nearly a century of Supreme Court adjudica-

Page 356

tion,9 and it applies here as well. The statute before us is well within those limits.10

Affirmed.

Page 357

Mr. Justice BRENNAN, with whom Mr. Justice MARSHALL joins, dissenting.

The Court rejects widower Kahn's claim of denial of equal protection on the ground that the limitation in Fla.Stat. § 196.191((7) (1971), F.S.A., which provides an annual $500 property tax exemption to widows, is a legislative classification that bears a fair and substantial relation to 'the state policy of cushioning the financial impact of spousal loss upon the sex for which that loss imposes a disproportionately heavy burden.' Ante, at 355. In my view, however, a legislative classification that distinguishes potential beneficiaries solely by reference to their gender-based status as widows or widowers, like classifications based upon race,1 alienage,2 and national origin,3 must be subjected to close judicial scrutiny, because it focuses upon generally immutable characteristics over which individuals have little or no control, and also because gender-based classifications too often have been inexcusably utilized to stereotype and stigmatize politically powerless segments of society. See Frontiero v. Richardson, 411 U.S. 677, 93 S.Ct. 1764 (1973). The Court is not, therefore, free to sustain the statute on the ground that it rationally promotes legitimate governmental interests; rather, such suspect classifications can be sustained only when the State bears the burden of demonstrating that the challenged legislation serves overriding or compelling interests that cannot be achieved either by a more carefully tailored legislative classification or by the use of feasible,

Page 358

less drastic means. While, in my view, the statute serves a compelling governmental interest by 'cushioning the financial impact of spousal loss upon the sex for which that loss imposes a disproportionately heavy burden,' I think that the statute is invalid because the State's interest can be served equally well by a more narrowly drafted statute.

Gender-based classifications cannot be sustained merely because they promote legitimate governmental interests, such as efficacious administration of government. Frontiero v. Richardson, supra, Reed v. Reed, 404 U.S. 71, 92 S.Ct. 251 (1971). For 'when we enter the realm of 'strict judicial scrutiny,' there can be no doubt that 'administrative convenience' is not a shibboleth, the mere recitation of which dictates constitutionality. See Shapiro v. Thompson, 394 U.S. 618, 89 S.Ct. 1322, 22 L.Ed.2d 600 (1969); Carrington v. Rash, 380 U.S. 89, 85 S.Ct. 775, 13 L.Ed.2d 675 (1965). On the contrary, any statutory scheme which draws a sharp line between the sexes, solely for the purpose of achieving administrative convenience, necessarily commands 'dissimilar treatment for men and women who are . . . similarly situated,' and therefore involves the 'very kind of arbitrary legislative choice forbidden by the (Constitution) . . ..' Reed v. Reed, 404 U.S., at 77, 76, 92 S.Ct., at 254.' Frontiero v. Richardson, supra, 411 U.S., at 690, 93 S.Ct. at 1772. But Florida's justification of § 196.191(7) is not that it serves administrative...

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260 practice notes
  • Women's Liberation Union of Rhode Island, Inc. v. Israel, Civ. A. No. 74-139.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Rhode Island
    • July 23, 1974
    ...to a permissible legislative "object." Reed v. Reed, 404 U. S. 71, 76, 92 S.Ct. 251, 30 L.Ed.2d 225 (1971); Kahn v. Shevin, 416 U.S. 351, 94 S.Ct. 1734, 40 L.Ed.2d 189 (1974). EQUAL PROTECTION Traditionally the Supreme Court has utilized a two-tiered Equal Protection test. In most......
  • Dorrough v. Estelle, No. 73-1881.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • July 29, 1974
    ...San Antonio Independent School Dist. v. Rodriguez, 1973, 411 U.S. 1, 93 S.Ct. 1278, 36 L.Ed.2d 16 (wealth); Kahn v. Shevin, ___ U.S. ___, 94 S.Ct. 1734, 40 L.Ed.2d 189 (1974) (gender); Weber v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co., 1972, 406 U.S. 164, 92 S.Ct. 1400, 31 L.Ed.2d 768 13 One comment......
  • Arp v. Workers' Comp. Appeals Bd.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • May 5, 1977
    ...U.S. ---, 97 S.Ct. 1192, 51 L.Ed.2d 360; Schlesinger v. Ballard (1975) 419 U.S. 498, 95 S.Ct. 572, 42 L.Ed.2d 610; Kahn v. Shevin (1974) 416 U.S. 351, 94 S.Ct. 1734, 40 L.Ed.2d 189; Geduldig v. Aiello (1974) 417 U.S. 484, 94 S.Ct. 2485, 41 L.Ed.2d 256.) The various factors distinguishing th......
  • Bakke v. Regents of University of California, S.F. 23311
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • September 16, 1976
    ...share. This reality, however, has not led courts to invalidate the remedial use of benign classifications. (See also Kahn v. Shevin (1974) 416 U.S. 351, 94 S.Ct. 1734, 40 L.Ed.2d 189; Morton v. Mancari, supra, 417 U.S. 535, 94 S.Ct. 2474, 41 L.Ed.2d The majority are similarly in error in cl......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
254 cases
  • Women's Liberation Union of Rhode Island, Inc. v. Israel, Civ. A. No. 74-139.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Rhode Island
    • July 23, 1974
    ...relation to a permissible legislative "object." Reed v. Reed, 404 U. S. 71, 76, 92 S.Ct. 251, 30 L.Ed.2d 225 (1971); Kahn v. Shevin, 416 U.S. 351, 94 S.Ct. 1734, 40 L.Ed.2d 189 (1974). EQUAL PROTECTION Traditionally the Supreme Court has utilized a two-tiered Equal Protection test. In most ......
  • Dorrough v. Estelle, No. 73-1881.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • July 29, 1974
    ...San Antonio Independent School Dist. v. Rodriguez, 1973, 411 U.S. 1, 93 S.Ct. 1278, 36 L.Ed.2d 16 (wealth); Kahn v. Shevin, ___ U.S. ___, 94 S.Ct. 1734, 40 L.Ed.2d 189 (1974) (gender); Weber v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co., 1972, 406 U.S. 164, 92 S.Ct. 1400, 31 L.Ed.2d 768 13 One commentator......
  • Arp v. Workers' Comp. Appeals Bd.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • May 5, 1977
    ...U.S. ---, 97 S.Ct. 1192, 51 L.Ed.2d 360; Schlesinger v. Ballard (1975) 419 U.S. 498, 95 S.Ct. 572, 42 L.Ed.2d 610; Kahn v. Shevin (1974) 416 U.S. 351, 94 S.Ct. 1734, 40 L.Ed.2d 189; Geduldig v. Aiello (1974) 417 U.S. 484, 94 S.Ct. 2485, 41 L.Ed.2d 256.) The various factors distinguishing th......
  • Bakke v. Regents of University of California, S.F. 23311
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • September 16, 1976
    ...share. This reality, however, has not led courts to invalidate the remedial use of benign classifications. (See also Kahn v. Shevin (1974) 416 U.S. 351, 94 S.Ct. 1734, 40 L.Ed.2d 189; Morton v. Mancari, supra, 417 U.S. 535, 94 S.Ct. 2474, 41 L.Ed.2d The majority are similarly in error in cl......
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5 books & journal articles
  • List of Cases Referenced
    • United States
    • Political Research Quarterly Nbr. 28-1, March 1975
    • March 1, 1975
    ...v. Ohio, 378 U.S. 184 (1964)Jenkins v. Georgia, 94 S.Ct. 2750 (1974) Johnson v. Robison, 415 U.S. 361 (1974) 191 Kahn v. Shevin, 94 S.Ct. 1734 (1974)Kasper v. Pontikes, 414 U.S. 51 (1973)Keyes v. School District of Denver, 413 U.S. 189 (1973)Lefkowitz v. Turley, 414 U.S. 70 (1973)Lehman v. ......
  • "Equal Outcomes": A Constitutional Comparison of Gender Equality Guarantees in the United States and South Africa.
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    ...Not to mention--he ended up being wrong! He assumed the ERA was about to pass so why wade into the controversy... (34.) Kahn v. Shevin, 416 U.S. 351, 355-56 (1974) (upholding a statute that only provided widows property tax exemption but denied it to widowers). This statute facially discrim......
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    • Political Research Quarterly Nbr. 44-4, December 1991
    • December 1, 1991
    ...Booksellers’Association. 7th Cir. 1985. 771 F.2d 323. Johnson v. Transportation Agency. 1987. 107 S. Ct. 1442. Kahn v. Shevin. 1974. 416 U.S. 351. Kirchberg v. Feenstra. 1981. 450 U.S. 455.Lehr v. Robertson. 1983. 463 U.S. Lemon v. Kurtzman. 1971. 403 U.S. 602. Loving v. Yirginia. 1967. 388......
  • The Supreme Court and Sex Discrimination: the Role of the Solicitor General
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    • Political Research Quarterly Nbr. 41-3, September 1988
    • September 1, 1988
    ...Richardson, 411 U.S. 677.Pittsburgh Press v. Human Relations Commission, 413 U.S. 376. Cleveland v. Lafleur, 414 U.S. 632. Kahn v. Shevin, 416 U.S. 351.Corning Glass v. Brennan, 417 U.S. Geduldig v. Aiello, 417 U.S. 484.Schlesinger v. Ballard, 419 U.S. 498. Taylor v. Louisiana, 419 U.S. 522......
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