Bowen v. Gilliard

PETITIONER: Otis R. Bowen, Secretary of Health and Human Services
RESPONDENT: Beaty Mae Gilliard, et al.
LOCATION: United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, Charlotte Division

DOCKET NO.: 86-509
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-1987)

CITATION: 483 US 587 (1987)
ARGUED: Apr 22, 1987
DECIDED: Jun 25, 1987
GRANTED: Dec 08, 1986

Albert G. Lauber, Jr. - on behalf of the appellant in No-86-509
Catherine C. McLamb - on behalf of the appellants in No. 86-564
Jane R. Wettach - on behalf of the appellees

Facts of the case

Until 1984, the statutes governing Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) allowed a family to exclude one member if that person had an income or is receiving benefits that would reduce the amount of government aid. In 1984, Congress passed the Deficit Reduction Act of 1984, which removed the option of excluding a family member. The new law required that the filing unit include all income from all members of the family. This might reduce the family’s total income by reducing the benefits the family is eligible to receive.

In 1970, Beaty Mae Gilliard, who had been receiving benefits from North Carolina through the AFDC since 1962, gave birth to her seventh child. Because Gilliard was receiving child support from the child’s father, the state deducted the child support from the benefits she was eligible for as the parent of an eight-person family. Gilliard sued, and the district court agreed with her reading of the statute that she was allowed to exclude the child who was receiving child support from her filing unit because the seven-person family benefits were greater than what she would receive from the eight-person family benefits minus the child support. The district court awarded class relief to anyone in Gilliard’s position. When North Carolina adopted regulations to comply with the 1984 Act, Gilliard and other members of the class filed a motion to reopen the case and obtain relief. The district court concluded that the new statutory scheme adopted by the 1984 Act violated the Due Process and Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment.


Does the Deficit Reduction Act of 1984, which requires a family’s eligibility for federal aid to take into account all incomes of all family members living in the same home, violate the Fifth Amendment?

Media for Bowen v. Gilliard

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 22, 1987 in Bowen v. Gilliard

William H. Rehnquist:

We will hear arguments next in two consolidated cases, No. 86-509, Bowen against Gilliard, and No. 86-564, Flaherty against Gilliard.

Mr. Flauber, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Albert G. Lauber, Jr.:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

The question here involves the validity of an amendment to the AFDC program that Congress enacted in 1984, a provision I shall refer to as the standard filing unit provision.

This amendment was one of many budget cutting steps that Congress took in that year, and it was designed to close what Congress viewed as a loophole in the AFDC eligibility scheme.

Under prior law, a family applying for AFDC could try to maximize its AFDC grant by excluding from the filing unit certain family members, typically children who had other sources of income, such as Social Security benefits, child support, or accountable earnings from employment.

This enabled the family to get the maximum AFDC grant for the members in the unit, plus keep all of the other income of the members who were left out of the unit.

In 1984 Congress decided to eliminate this benefit maximizing option by enacting the provision challenged here.

It requires that when a family applies for AFDC, all members of the family who live together must be included in the filing unit, and that the income of all those family members must be added up to figure out how needy the family is for public assistance.

Congress based this amendment on the belief that family members who live near the poverty level and who live together tend to share their income and expenses; and that therefore the most reliable index of the family's need for public assistance was the total income of the family members.

Thus, rather than simply cutting AFDC to families across the board, Congress sought to target the benefit cuts in 1984 to those families that were, because of the members separate income, less needy.

Now, appellees, of course, have no constitutional right to a permanently fixed level of AFDC benefits, and they therefore recognize that they could not bring a constitutional challenge to a decision by Congress simply to cut benefit levels without more.

What they argue, therefore, is that Congress did not really cut AFDC benefits here, but rather took property away from the children who are required to be newly included in the filing unit.

Appellees focus on child support income, and especially on the assignment provision enacted in 1975 which requires a mother who applies for AFDC to assign to the state any right to support that she or her child may have.

This provision was designed to improve collection of delinquent child support by transferring the burden of collection from the abandoned mother to the state with its greater enforcement resources.

Now, the assignment provision by itself works no hardship on the family, because for every dollar of support assigned to the state, one dollar of AFDC comes back to the family.

Moreover, a family that assigns child support also receives an extra $50 a month from the state by virtue of the child support disregard provision.

Antonin Scalia:

Well, it comes back to the family... you say it works no hardship; it works no hardship on the family.

Albert G. Lauber, Jr.:

That's right.

Antonin Scalia:

But one of the contentions here is that it does work a hardship on the child for whom the support is destined.

Albert G. Lauber, Jr.:

That's right.

That's appellee's theory, that the effect of the assignment provision is to take the property of the child--

Antonin Scalia:

And give it to the family.

Albert G. Lauber, Jr.:

--and transmute that into AFDC and give it to the whole family.

Antonin Scalia:

That's right.

Now why is that wrong?

Albert G. Lauber, Jr.:

Why is their theory wrong?

Well, we think their theory, their taking theory, is wrong for several reasons.

First of all, the premise of their theory--

Antonin Scalia:

xxx taking.