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Mathews v. Eldridge 424 U.S. 319 (1976)

MATHEWS v. ELDRIDGE 424 U.S. 319 (1976)

goldberg v. kelly (1970) established a procedural due process right to an evidentiary hearing prior to the termination of state welfare benefits. Eldridge, whose Social Security disability benefits had been terminated without a prior hearing, could be pardoned for thinking that Goldberg controlled his case. In the event, a 6–2 Supreme Court explained how that view was mistaken, and established its basic test for determining whether a particular procedure satisfied the demands of due process.

The government conceded that the disability benefit was the sort of statutory " entitlement " that constituted a " property " interest protected by the due process guarantee. The government nonetheless argued that a prior hearing was not required; rather, due process was satisfied by a posttermination hearing at which the beneficiary might review the evidence, submit evidence of his own, and make arguments for reconsideration. Under the existing procedures, a beneficiary who prevailed in such a posttermination hearing was entitled to full retroactive relief. A majority of the Court agreed with the government's argument.

In a passage often quoted in later opinions, the Court set out the factors relevant to determining "the specific dictates of due process," once a "liberty" or "property" interest is impaired: "First, the private interest that will be affected by the official action; second, the risk of an erroneous deprivation of such interest through the procedures used, and the probable value, if any, of additional or substitute procedural safeguards; and finally, the Government's interest, including the function involved and the fiscal and administrative burdens that the additional or substitute procedural requirement would entail." Here, eligibility for disability benefits was not based on need, the standard for welfare eligibility in Goldberg. The Court assumed that a delayed payment would harm the typical disability beneficiary less than the typical welfare recipient. The medical question of disability, in contrast with the "need" question in a welfare case, was more focused and less susceptible to erroneous decision. The costs of pretermination hearings would be great. In short, the Court balanced its factors on the government's side.

theEldridge due process calculus implies a strong presumption of constitutionality of whatever procedures a legislative body or government agency may choose to provide persons deprived of liberty or property. This presumption grows naturally out of the Court's limited choice of factors to be balanced, emphasizing material costs and benefits and ignoring the role of procedural fairness in maintaining each individual's sense of being a respected, participating citizen.

Kenneth L. Karst

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