Townsend v. Swank Alexander v. Swank 8212 5021, 70 8212 5032, Nos. 70

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtBRENNAN
Citation92 S.Ct. 502,404 U.S. 282,30 L.Ed.2d 448
PartiesGeorgia TOWNSEND, et al., Appellant, v. Harold O. SWANK, Director, Department of Public Aid of Illinois, et al. Loverta ALEXANDER et al., Appellants, v. Harold O. SWANK, Director, Department of Public Aid of Illinois, et al. —5021, 70—5032
Docket NumberNos. 70
Decision Date20 December 1971

404 U.S. 282
92 S.Ct. 502
30 L.Ed.2d 448
Georgia TOWNSEND, et al., Appellant,

v.

Harold O. SWANK, Director, Department of Public Aid of Illinois, et al. Loverta ALEXANDER et al., Appellants, v. Harold O. SWANK, Director, Department of Public Aid of Illinois, et al.

Nos. 70—5021, 70—5032.
Argued Nov. 8, 1971.
Decided Dec. 20, 1971.

Syllabus

This class action challenges on equal protection and supremacy grounds an Illinois statute and regulation under which needy dependent children 18 through 20 years old attending high school or vocational training school qualify for benefits under the federally assisted Aid to Families With Dependent Children (AFDC) program, but such children attending a college or university do not qualify. A three-judge District Court upheld the Illinois scheme. Held: Under § 402(a)(10) of the Social Security Act, a state participating plan under the AFDC program must provide that aid to families with dependent children shall be furnished with reasonable promptness to 'all eligible' individuals. Since § 406(a)(2)(B) of the Act makes dependent 18 20-year-olds eligible for benefits whether attending a college or university or a vocational or technical training course, and Congress has authorized no limitation of eligibility standards within the age group, the Illinois program conflicts with that federal statutory provision and violates the Supremacy Clause. Pp. 285—292.

314 F.Supp. 1082, reversed.

Michael F. Lefkow, Chicago, Ill., for Georgia Townsend.

M. James Spitzer, Jr., New York City, for Loverta Alexander and others pro hac vice, by special leave of Court.

Page 283

Donald J. Veverka, Chicago, Ill., for appellees.

Mr. Justice BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

Appellants, two college students and their mothers, brought this class action in the District Court for the Northern District of Illinois alleging that § 4—1.1 of the Illinois Public Aid Code, Ill.Rev.Stat., c. 23, § 4—1.1 (1967) and the implementing Illinois Public Aid Regulation 150 violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and, because inconsistent with § 406(a)(2)(B) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 606(a)(2)(B), also violate the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution.1 Under the Illinois statute and regula-

Page 284

tion needy dependent children 18 through 20 years of age who attend high school or vocational training school are eligible for benefits under the federally assisted Aid to Families With Dependent Children (AFDC) program, 42 U.S.C. § 601 et seq., but such children who attend a college or university are not eligible.2 Section 406(a)(2) of

Page 285

the Social Security Act, on the other hand, defines 'dependent child' to include a child '. . . (B) under the age of twenty-one and (as determined by the State in accordance with standards prescribed by the Secretary) a student regularly attending a school, college, or university, or regularly attending a course of vocational or technical training designed to fit him for gainful employment.' A three-judge district court held that neither constitutional contention had merit and sustained the validity of the Illinois statute and regulation. 314 F.Supp. 1082 (1970). We noted probable jurisdiction, 401 U.S. 906, 91 S.Ct. 889, 27 L.Ed.2d 804 (1971). We hold that the Illinois statute and regulation conflict with § 406(a)(2)(B) and for that reason are invalid under the Supremacy Clause. We therefore reverse on that ground without reaching the equal protection issue.

I

Section 402(a)(10) of the Social Security Act provides that state participatory plans submitted under the AFDC program for the approval of the Secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) must provide 'that aid to families with dependent children shall be furnished with reasonable promptness to all eligible individuals.' (Emphasis supplied.) In King v. Smith, 392 U.S. 309, 88 S.Ct. 2128, 20 L.Ed.2d 1118 (1968), we considered whether a State participating in an AFDC program may, consistently with the Supremacy Clause, adopt eligibility standards that exclude from benefits needy dependent children eligible for benefits under applicable federal statutory standards. There was before us in that case a regulation of the Alabama Department of Pensions and Security that treated a man who cohabited with the mother of needy dependent children in or outside the home as a nonabsent 'parent' within the federal statute. Since aid can be granted under § 406(a) of the Federal

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Act only if a 'parent' of the needy child is continually absent from the home, Alabama's regulation resulted in the ineligibility of the children for benefits. We held that the Alabama regulation defined 'parent' in a manner inconsistent with § 406(a) of the Social Security Act and therefore that in 'denying AFDC assistance to (children) on the basis of this invalid regulation, Alabama has breached its federally imposed obligation to furnish 'aid to families with dependent children . . . with reasonable promptness to all eligible individuals . . .." 392 U.S., at 333, 88 S.Ct., at 2141.

Thus, King v. Smith establishes that, at least in the absence of congressional authorization for the exclusion clearly evidenced from the Social Security Act or its legislative history, a state eligibility standard that excludes persons eligible for assistance, under federal AFDC standards violates the Social Security Act and is therefore invalid under the Supremacy Clause. We recognize that HEW regulations seem to imply that States may to some extent vary eligibility requirements from federal standards.3 However, the principle that accords substantial weight to interpretation of a statute by the department entrusted with its administration is inapplicable insofar as those regulations are inconsistent with the requirement of § 402(a)(10) that aid be furnished 'to all eligible individuals.' (Emphasis supplied.) King v. Smith, 392 U.S., at 333 n. 34, 88 S.Ct., at 2141, 20 L.Ed.2d 1118.

Page 287

II

It is next argued that in the case of 18—20-year-old needy dependent children, Congress authorized the States to vary eligibility requirements from federal standards. In other words, it is contended that Congress authorized the States to discriminate between these needy dependent children solely upon the basis of the type of school attended. Our examination of the legislative history has uncovered no evidence that Congress granted the asserted authority. On the contrary, we are persuaded that the history supports the conclusion that Congress meant to continue financial assistance for AFDC programs for the age group only in States that conformed their eligibility requirements to the federal eligibility standards.

Section 406(a)(2)(B) makes dependent 18—20-year-olds eligible for benefits whether attending a college or university, or attending a course of vocational or technical training. The only discretion written into the statute permits a State to determine, 'in accordance with standards prescribed by the Secretary,' whether a particular student, without regard to whether his attendance is at a college or vocational school, is a student 'regularly attending' a bona fide school.4 This particularization of the area of state authority is itself cogent evidence that Congress did not also authorize the States to limit eligibility to students attending vocational school.

Nor is there anything in the legislative history of the evolution of § 406(a) (2)(B) to support appellees' argument.5 That history does show that whenever Congress

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extended AFDC eligibility to older children—from those under 16 to those 16—17, and finally to those 18—20—Congress left to the individual States the decision whether to participate in the program for the new age group. There is no...

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