Frontiero v. Richardson Case Brief

Facts of the case

Sharron Frontiero, a lieutenant in the United States Air Force, sought a dependent’s allowance for her husband. Federal law provided that the wives of members of the military automatically became dependents husbands of female members of the military, however, were not accepted as dependents unless they were dependent on their wives for over one-half of their support. Frontiero’s request for dependent status for her husband was turned down.

Why is the case important?

The Appellant, Sharron Frontiero (Appellant), asserts that a military practice that automatically allowed the wives of male officers to be considered as dependents and thus receive the rights of dependents, but required the female officers, in order to get the benefits for their husbands, to actually prove that their husbands were dependent upon them, is an unconstitutional gender based classification.


Whether the differential treatment of the allocation of allowances and benefits in the uniformed services by allowing servicemen’s spouses to claim a dependent without regard to whether they are truly dependent on their spouses, while requiring servicewomen’s spouses to show they are actually dependent on their spouses for over one half of his support violates the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment?


Yes. Reversed and remanded.
Justice William Brennan (J. Brennan) notes that women have a past history of discrimination against them in the United States and thus a requirement of strict scrutiny for gender-based classifications is appropriate.
The government offered no concrete evidence suggesting that there is any actual administrative time or cost saving by this classification. Even so, J. Brennan notes that, “[W]hen we enter the real of ‘strict judicial scrutiny,’ there can be no doubt that “administrative convenience” is not a shibboleth.”
Concurrence. Justice Lewis Powell (J. Powell) concurs in the judgment, but disagrees that sex-based classifications are always suspect and subject to strict scrutiny.


The court reversed, holding that the challenged statutory scheme involved the very kind of arbitrary legislative choice forbidden by the United States Constitution because it drew a sharp line between appellants, female military personnel, and their counterparts, solely for the purpose of achieving administrative convenience, necessarily commanding dissimilar treatment for men and women who were similarly situated.

  • Advocates: Joseph J. Levin, Jr. Argued the cause for the appellants Samuel Huntington Argued the cause for the appellees Ruth Bader Ginsburg for American Civil Liberties Union, amicus curiae, by special leave of Court
  • Appellant: Sharron Frontiero
  • Appellee: Elliot Richardson, Secretary of Defense
  • DECIDED BY:Burger Court
  • Location: Maxwell Air Force Base
Citation: 411 US 677 (1973)
Argued: Jan 17, 1973
Decided: May 14, 1973
Frontiero v. Richardson Case Brief