Saenz v. Roe, 526 U.S. 489 (1999)

2012-08-29 22:47:24

The Supreme Court’s decision in Shapiro v. Thompson (1969) ruled that welfare waiting period requirements were unconstitutional. However, residency requirements emerged again in the late 1980s as states experienced budget crises and dissatisfaction with the welfare system. States aiming to prevent the influx of welfare-dependent persons through residency requirements attempted to circumvent the Shapiro ruling by avoiding the specific provisions invalidated by the Court. In Saenz v. Roe, the Court reviewed a California statute under which new residents, for the first year of their residency, would be limited to the maximum amount of benefits received in the state of prior residence. This was challenged by recent residents claiming that their monthly Aid to Families with Dependent Children benefits would be substantially lowered under the statute. Also under review was the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996, which in effect approved the statutory requirement.

The Court’s seven-to-two decision held that California’s statute violated the right to travel guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment and that PRWORA does not resuscitate the constitutionality of the statute. Central to the decision was the privileges and immunities clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which prohibits differential treatment of citizens on the basis of length of residence— California’s legitimate purpose in saving money did not justify discriminating among equally eligible citizens. The Court affirmed the right of all citizens to acquire and enjoy the benefits of Citizenship on establishing residence in a state of their choice.

Saenz signaled a departure from the Court’s reliance on the equal protection clause in reviewing welfare residency requirements. However, this change in the Court’s approach did not affect its view of welfare residency requirements as unconstitutional.


References and Further Reading

  • Lashbrook, April D. Back from a Long Vacation: The Privileges and Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment in Saenz v. Roe. Capital University Law Review 29 (2001): 481–521.

Cases and Statutes Cited

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

See also Edwards v. California, 314 U.S. 160 (1941); Right to Trave