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

2012-09-03 20:41:04

Welfare programs requiring a certain length of residence in the state as a condition of eligibility had become a subject of debate in the years following Edwards v. California (1941). Some commentators argued that welfare waiting periods, by denying benefits to recent residents, were inconsistent with the constitutional right to travel. In Shapiro v. Thompson, applicants to several state welfare programs challenged statutes requiring one year of residence for eligibility for Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). The Court’s six-to-three decision held that these requirements were unconstitutional.

Building on Edwards, the majority concluded that ‘‘A state may no more try to fence out those indigents who seek higher welfare benefits than it may try to fence out indigents generally.’’ The Court applied the strict scrutiny standard of the equal protection clause to review the States’ interference in movement across state borders and found it to be unconstitutional. The statutes in effect served to penalize applicants’ exercise of the right to travel, and without showing that waiting periods were necessary to serve the States’ fiscal interests, they could not be justified. States’ argument that the Congress had authorized states to impose durational residency requirements up to one year in AFDC programs was rejected, because the case involved the constitutionality of state statutes and Congress ‘‘may not authorize the states to violate the equal protection clause.’’

Shapiro settled the debate over the constitutionality of welfare waiting periods, and residency requirements were abolished in subsequent years. In effect, this decision secured the right to travel that was first recognized in Edwards v. California.


References and Further Reading

  • Rotunda, Ronald, John E. Nowak, and J. Nelson Young. Treatise on Constitutional Law: Substance and Procedure. 3rd Ed., Vol. 3, St. Paul, MN: West, 1999, pp. 775–794.

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Edwards v. California, 314 U.S. 160 (1941)

See also Right to Travel; Saenz v. Roe, 526 U.S. 489 (1999)