Goldberg v Kelly Establishes Procedural Due Process for Government BenefitsHistorical
In Goldberg v Kelly, 397 U.S. 254 (1970), the U.S. Supreme Court established Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process requirements for the denial of government benefits. The Court held that the Constitution mandates a full evidentiary hearing be held before a recipient of certain government benefits is deprived of such benefits.
Facts of Goldberg v Kelly
Several New York City residents receiving financial aid under the federally assisted Aid to Families with Dependent Children program or under New York State’s general Home Relief program filed suit. Their complaint alleged that officials administering these programs terminated, or were about to terminate, such aid without prior notice and hearing, thereby denying them due process of law.
The District Court held that only a pre-termination evidentiary hearing would satisfy the constitutional command. It rejected the argument of the welfare officials that the combination of the existing post-termination “fair hearing” and an informal pre-termination review was sufficient.
“Against the justified desire to protect public funds must be weighed the individual’s overpowering need in this unique situation not to be wrongfully deprived of assistance… While the problem of additional expense must be kept in mind, it does not justify denying a hearing meeting the ordinary standards of due process,” the court explained. “Under all the circumstances, we hold that due process requires an adequate hearing before termination of welfare benefits, and the fact that there is a later constitutionally fair proceeding does not alter the result.”
Supreme Court’s Decision in Goldberg v Kelly
By a vote of 5-3, the Court agreed that a State that terminates welfare payments to a recipient without affording him the opportunity for an evidentiary hearing prior to termination denies the recipient procedural due process in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. wrote on behalf of the majority.
In reaching its decision, the majority concluded that welfare benefits are statutory entitlements rather than merely privileges. Accordingly, procedural due process is applicable to their termination.
The Court next concluded that a pre-termination evidentiary hearing is necessary to provide the welfare recipient with procedural due process. Justice Brennan wrote:
For qualified recipients, welfare provides the means to obtain essential food, clothing, housing, and medical care. Thus, the crucial factor in this context — a factor not present in the case of the blacklisted government contractor, the discharged government employee, the taxpayer denied a tax exemption, or virtually anyone else whose governmental entitlements are ended — is that termination of aid pending resolution of a controversy over eligibility may deprive an eligible recipient of the very means by which to live while he waits. Since he lacks independent resources, his situation becomes immediately desperate. His need to concentrate upon finding the means for daily subsistence, in turn, adversely affects his ability to seek redress from the welfare bureaucracy.
In so ruling, the majority rejected the argument that governmental interests are overriding in the welfare context. As Justice Brennan wrote, “the interest of the eligible recipient in uninterrupted receipt of public assistance, coupled with the State’s interest that his payments not be erroneously terminated, clearly outweighs the State’s competing concern to prevent any increase in its fiscal and administrative burdens.”
The majority agreed with the district court that such a hearing need not take the form of a judicial or quasi-judicial trial. However, it noted that “the recipient must be provided with a timely and adequate notice detailing the reasons for termination, and an effective opportunity to defend by confronting adverse witnesses and by presenting his own arguments and evidence orally before the decisionmaker.
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- Establishment ClauseFree Exercise Clause
- Freedom of Speech
- Freedoms of Press
- Freedom of Assembly, and Petitition
- The Right to Bear Arms
- Unreasonable Searches and Seizures
- Due Process
- Eminent Domain
- Rights of Criminal Defendants
Preamble to the Bill of Rights
Congress of the United States begun and held at the City of New-York, on Wednesday the fourth of March, one thousand seven hundred and eighty nine.
THE Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.