Shapiro v Thompson Established 14th Amendment Right to TravelHistorical
In Shapiro v Thompson, 394 U.S. 618 (1969), the U.S. Supreme Court recognized a constitutional right to travel from one state to another. It further held that state laws that imposed residency requirements to obtain welfare assistance violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
Facts of Shapiro v Thompson
The Connecticut Welfare Department denied Vivian Marie Thompson’s application for assistance under the program for Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). She was a 19-year-old unwed mother of one child and pregnant with her second child when she changed her residence in June, 1966, from Dorchester, Massachusetts, to Hartford, Connecticut, to live with her mother, a Hartford resident. She moved to her own apartment in Hartford several months later. Because of her pregnancy, she was unable to work or enter a work training program.
Thompson’s application was denied pursuant to Connecticut statutory provisions that denied welfare assistance to persons who were residents and met all other eligibility requirements except that they had not resided within the jurisdiction for at least a year immediately preceding their applications for assistance. Thompson subsequently filed suit, arguing that prohibition of benefits to residents of less than one year created a discriminatory classification that denies them equal protection of the laws.
The majority of a three-member panel of the Connecticut District Court held that the provision was unconstitutional because it “has a chilling effect on the right to travel.” The majority further held that the provision was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because the denial of relief to those residents in the State for less than a year is not based on any permissible purpose, but is solely designed “to protect its fisc by discouraging entry of those who come needing relief.”
The consolidated cases before the Supreme Court also challenged the constitutionality of Pennsylvania and District of Columbia statutory provisions that also denied welfare assistance to persons who were residents and meet all other eligibility requirements except that they have not resided within the jurisdiction for at least a year immediately preceding their applications for assistance. The states argued that the waiting period was needed to preserve the fiscal integrity of their public assistance programs, as persons who require welfare assistance during their first year of residence are likely to become continuing burdens on welfare programs. They also sought to justify the classification as a permissible attempt to discourage indigents from entering a State solely to obtain larger benefits and to distinguish between new and old residents on the basis of the tax contributions they have made to the community. The states also cited administrative and related governmental objectives, such as facilitating the planning of welfare budgets, providing an objective test of residency, minimizing the opportunity for recipients fraudulently to receive payments from more than one jurisdiction, and encouraging the early entry of new residents into the labor force.
Court’s Decision in Shapiro v Thompson
By vote 6-3, the Supreme Court held that residency requirements of the AFDC aid program violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. William J. Brennan, Jr. wrote on behalf of the majority.
The majority first addressed the right to travel. “Since the Constitution guarantees the right of interstate movement, the purpose of deterring the migration of indigents into a State is impermissible, and cannot serve to justify the classification created by the one-year waiting period,” Justice Brennan wrote.
Since the state laws at issue involved the “fundamental right of interstate movement,” the majority determined that they must promote a compelling state interest. “In moving from jurisdiction to jurisdiction appellees were exercising a constitutional right, and any classification which penalizes the exercise of that right, unless shown to be necessary to promote a compelling governmental interest, is unconstitutional,” Justice Brennan explained.
Applying this standard, the majority concluded that the regulations failed to pass muster and, therefore, violated the Equal Protection Clause. “A State may no more try to fence out those indigents who seek higher welfare payments than it may try to fence out indigents generally,” Justice Brenna wrote.
He added: “The classification may not be sustained as an attempt to distinguish between new and old residents on the basis of the contribution they have made to the community through the payment of taxes because the Equal Protection Clause prohibits the States from apportioning benefits or services on the basis of the past tax contributions of its citizens.
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