Shapiro v. Thompson 394 U.S. 618 (1969)

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SHAPIRO v. THOMPSON 394 U.S. 618 (1969)

Two states and the district of columbia denied welfare benefits to new residents during a one-year waiting period. The Supreme Court, 6–3, held that the state schemes denied the equal protection of the laws and that the District's law violated the Fifth Amendment's equal protection component, as recognized in bolling v. sharpe (1954).

Justice william j. brennan wrote for the Court. The right to travel from one state to settle in another was a fundamental interest, whose impairment was justified only on a showing of a compelling state interest. These statutes served to deter the entry of indigents and to discourage interstate travel for the purpose of obtaining increased welfare benefits, but those objectives were constitutionally illegitimate efforts to restrict the right to travel. Equal protection considerations forbade a state to apportion its benefits and services on the basis of past tax contributions. The saving of welfare costs similarly could not "justify an otherwise invidious classification." Various arguments addressed to administrative convenience were also insufficiently compelling.

The Court also hinted that wealth discrimination against the indigent might constitute a suspect classification, or, alternatively, that minimum subsistence might be a fundamental interest. Both these suggestions were sidetracked in later decisions such as san antonio independent school district v. rodriguez (1973).

Chief Justice earl warren dissented, joined by Justice hugo l. black. Warren argued that Congress had approved the one-year waiting periods in the social security act. The majority rejected this statutory interpretation but added that in any event "Congress may not authorize the States to violate the Equal Protection Clause."

Justice john marshall harlan, in a long dissent, mounted a frontal attack on the warren court's expansion of the judicial role in equal protection cases through its heightening of the standards of review in cases involving fundamental interests and suspect classifications. Here, as in other decisions of the same period, the Harlan dissent illuminates the Court's doctrinal path more effectively than does the majority opinion. It has always been possible for a Justice to combine clarity of vision with the wrong conclusion.

Kenneth L. Karst
(1986)

(see also: Invidious Discrimination.)