Dandridge v. Williams 397 U.S. 471 (1970)

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DANDRIDGE v. WILLIAMS 397 U.S. 471 (1970)

Dandridge stifled the infant doctrine, born in cases such as griffin v. illinois (1956) and douglas v. california (1963), that governmental wealth discrimination, like racial discrimination, demanded strict judicial scrutiny of its justifications. Maryland provided welfare aid to dependent children on the basis of need, partly determined by the number of children in a family. However, payment to any one family was limited to $250 per month, irrespective of the family's size. A 6–3 Supreme Court, speaking through Justice potter stewart, characterized the case as one involving "social and economic" regulation, and applied the rational basis standard of review. Here there were legitimate state interests in encouraging employment and avoiding distinctions between welfare recipients and the working poor. Although some welfare beneficiaries were unemployable, the maximum-grant rule was generally reasonable.

Justice thurgood marshall, dissenting, rejected the idea of two separate standards of review, rational basis and strict scrutiny. He argued for a "sliding scale" of judicial supervision that would demand progressively more state justification as the classification in question bore more heavily on the powerless and in proportion to the importance of the interest at stake. Here, where indigent children were being deprived of basic subsistence as defined by the state's own standards of need, the permissive rational basis standard was inappropriate. Marshall also argued that the maximum-grant rule was invalid even under that permissive standard, given the state's aim of aiding children and the unemployability of a large proportion of welfare recipients.

After Dandridge, it became futile to argue to the Supreme Court either that welfare subsistence was a fundamental interest or that wealth discrimination implied a suspect classification. Since 1970 the Court has regularly shied away from decisions that would place the judiciary in the position of allocating state resources.

Kenneth L. Karst

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Dandridge v. Williams 397 U.S. 471 (1970)

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