Saenz v Roe, 051799 USSC9897

Party Name:Saenz v Roe
Case Date:May 17, 1999
Court:United States Supreme Court

134 F.3d 1400, affirmed.


No. 98 97



[May 17, 1999]

Justice Stevens delivered the opinion of the Court.

In 1992, California enacted a statute limiting the maximum welfare benefits available to newly arrived residents. The scheme limits the amount payable to a family that has resided in the State for less than 12 months to the amount payable by the State of the family's prior residence. The questions presented by this case are whether the 1992 statute was constitutional when it was enacted and, if not, whether an amendment to the Social Security Act enacted by Congress in 1996 affects that determination.


California is not only one of the largest, most populated, and most beautiful States in the Nation; it is also one of the most generous. Like all other States, California has participated in several welfare programs authorized by the Social Security Act and partially funded by the Federal Government. Its programs, however, provide a higher level of benefits and serve more needy citizens than those of most other States. In one year the most expensive of those programs, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), which was replaced in 1996 with Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), provided benefits for an average of 2,645,814 persons per month at an annual cost to the State of $2.9 billion. In California the cash benefit for a family of two a mother and one child is $456 a month, but in the neighboring State of Arizona, for example, it is only $275.

In 1992, in order to make a relatively modest reduction in its vast welfare budget, the California Legislature enacted §11450.03 of the state Welfare and Institutions Code. That section sought to change the California AFDC program by limiting new residents, for the first year they live in California, to the benefits they would have received in the State of their prior residence.1 Because in 1992 a state program either had to conform to federal specifications or receive a waiver from the Secretary of Health and Human Services in order to qualify for federal reimbursement, §11450.03 required approval by the Secretary to take effect. In October 1992, the Secretary issued a waiver purporting to grant such approval.

On December 21, 1992, three California residents who were eligible for AFDC benefits filed an action in the Eastern District of California challenging the constitutionality of the durational residency requirement in §11450.03. Each plaintiff alleged that she had recently moved to California to live with relatives in order to escape abusive family circumstances. One returned to California after living in Louisiana for seven years, the second had been living in Oklahoma for six weeks and the third came from Colorado. Each alleged that her monthly AFDC grant for the ensuing 12 months would be substantially lower under §11450.03 than if the statute were not in effect. Thus, the former residents of Louisiana and Oklahoma would receive $190 and $341 respectively for a family of three even though the full California grant was $641; the former resident of Colorado, who had just one child, was limited to $280 a month as opposed to the full California grant of $504 for a family of two.

The District Court issued a temporary restraining order and, after a hearing, preliminarily enjoined implementation of the statute. District Judge Levi found that the statute "produces substantial disparities in benefit levels and makes no accommodation for the different costs of living that exist in different states."2 Relying primarily on our decisions in Shapiro v. Thompson, 394 U.S. 618 (1969), and Zobel v. Williams, 457 U.S. 55 (1982), he concluded that the statute placed "a penalty on the decision of new residents to migrate to the State and be treated on an equal basis with existing residents." Green v. Anderson, 811 F.Supp. 516, 521 (ED Cal. 1993). In his view, if the purpose of the measure was to deter migration by poor people into the State, it would be unconstitutional for that reason. And even if the purpose was only to conserve limited funds, the State had failed to explain why the entire burden of the saving should be imposed on new residents. The Court of Appeals summarily affirmed for the reasons stated by the District Judge. Green v. Anderson, 26 F.3d 95 (CA9 1994).

We granted the State's petition for certiorari. 513 U.S. 922 (1994). We were, however, unable to reach the merits because the Secretary's approval of §11450.03 had been invalidated in a separate proceeding,3 and the State had acknowledged that the Act would not be implemented without further action by the Secretary. We vacated the judgment and directed that the case be dismissed. Anderson v. Green, 513 U.S. 557 (1995) (per curiam).4 Accordingly, §11450.03 remained inoperative until after Congress enacted the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 PRWORA, 110 Stat. 2105.

PRWORA replaced the AFDC program with TANF. The new statute expressly authorizes any State that receives a block grant under TANF to "apply to a family the rules (including benefit amounts) of the [TANF] program of another State if the family has moved to the State from the other State and has resided in the State for less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 604(c) (1994 ed., Supp. II). With this federal statutory provision in effect, California no longer needed specific approval from the Secretary to implement §11450.03. The California Department of Social Services therefore issued an "All County Letter" announcing that the enforcement of §11450.03 would commence on April 1, 1997.

The All County Letter clarifies certain aspects of the statute. Even if members of an eligible family had lived in California all of their lives, but left the State "on January 29th, intending to reside in another state, and returned on April 15th," their benefits are determined by the law of their State of residence from January 29 to April 15, assuming that that level was lower than California's.5 Moreover, the lower level of benefits applies regardless of whether the family was on welfare in the State of prior residence and regardless of the family's motive for moving to California. The instructions also explain that the residency requirement is inapplicable to families that recently arrived from another country.


On April 1, 1997, the two respondents filed this action in the Eastern District of California making essentially the same claims asserted by the plaintiffs in Anderson v. Green,6 but also challenging the constitutionality of PRWORA's approval of the durational residency requirement. As in Green, the District Court issued a temporary restraining order and certified the case as a class action.7 The Court also advised the Attorney General of the United States that the constitutionality of a federal statute had been drawn into question, but she did not seek to intervene or to file an amicus brief. Reasoning that PRWORA permitted, but did not require, States to impose durational residency requirements, Judge Levi concluded that the existence of the federal statute did not affect the legal analysis in his prior opinion in Green.

He did, however, make certain additional comments on the parties' factual contentions. He noted that the State did not challenge plaintiffs' evidence indicating that, although California benefit levels were the sixth highest in the Nation in absolute terms,8 when housing costs are factored in, they rank 18th; that new residents coming from 43 States would face higher costs of living in California; and that welfare benefit levels actually have little, if any, impact on the residential choices made by poor people. On the other hand, he noted that the availability of other programs such as homeless assistance and an additional food stamp allowance of $1 in stamps for every $3 in reduced welfare benefits partially offset the disparity between the benefits for new and old residents. Notwithstanding those ameliorating facts, the State did not disagree with plaintiffs' contention that §11450.03 would create significant disparities between newcomers and welfare recipients who have resided in the State for over one year.

The State relied squarely on the undisputed fact that the statute would save some $10.9 million in annual welfare costs an amount that is surely significant even though only a relatively small part of its annual expenditures of approximately $2.9 billion for the entire program. It contended that this cost saving was an appropriate exercise of budgetary authority as long as the residency requirement did not penalize the right to travel. The State reasoned that the payment of the same benefits that would have been received in the State of prior residency eliminated any potentially punitive aspects of the measure. Judge Levi concluded, however, that the relevant comparison was not between new residents of California and the residents of their former States, but rather between the new residents and longer term residents of California. He therefore again enjoined the implementation of the statute.

Without finally deciding the merits, the Court of Appeals affirmed his issuance of a preliminary injunction. Roe v. Anderson, 134 F.3d 1400 (CA9 1998). It agreed with the District Court's view that the passage of PRWORA did not affect the constitutional analysis, that respondents had established a probability of success on the merits and that class members might suffer irreparable harm if §11450.03 became operative. Although the decision of the Court of Appeals is consistent with the views of other federal courts that have addressed the issue,9 we granted certiorari because of the importance of the case. 524 U.S. ___ (1998).10 We now affirm.


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