Califano v. Goldfarb 430 U.S. 199 (1977) CALIFANO v. WEBSTER 430 U.S. 313 (1977)

views updated

CALIFANO v. GOLDFARB 430 U.S. 199 (1977) CALIFANO v. WEBSTER 430 U.S. 313 (1977)

These decisions illustrated the delicacy of distinguishing between "benign" gender classifications and unconstitutional ones. Goldfarb invalidated, 5–4, a social security act provision giving survivor's benefits to any widow but only to a widower who actually had received half his support from his wife. Webster, decided three weeks later, unanimously upheld the same law's grant of a higher level of old age benefits to women than to men.

In Goldfarb four Justices, led by Justice william j. brennan, saw the law as a discrimination against women workers, whose surviving families received less protection. The provision had not been adopted to compensate widows for economic disadvantage but to provide generally for survivors; Congress had simply assumed that wives are usually dependent. Saving the cost of individualized determinations of dependency was also insufficient to justify the discrimination. Four other Justices, led by Justice william h. rehnquist, saw the law as a discrimination against male survivors; because the discrimination was not invidious, implying male inferiority or burdening a disadvantaged minority, it should be upheld as "benign." Justice john paul stevens agreed with Justice Rehnquist that the discrimination ran against men; however, it was only "the accidental byproduct of a traditional way of thinking about females." Lacking more substantial justifications, it was invalid. (See Justice Stevens's concurrence in craig v. boren).

All the Justices in Webster agreed that the gender discrimination was not the product of "archaic and overbroad generalizations" about women's dependency but was designed to compensate for women's economic disadvantages. The Goldfarb dissenters, concurring separately in Webster, suggested that the fine distinction between the two results would produce uncertainty in the law.

Kenneth L. Karst

(see also: Sex Discrimination.)

About this article

Califano v. Goldfarb 430 U.S. 199 (1977) CALIFANO v. WEBSTER 430 U.S. 313 (1977)

Updated About content Print Article