Graham v. Richardson

PETITIONER: John O. Graham, Commissioner, Department of Public Welfare, State of Arizona
RESPONDENT: Carmen Richardson et al.
LOCATION: Arizona Dept of Public Welfare

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1970-1971)

CITATION: 403 US 365 (1971)
ARGUED: Mar 22, 1971
DECIDED: Jun 14, 1971

Facts of the case

The state of Arizona restricts the distribution of welfare benefits to individuals who are either United States citizens or aliens who have lived in the country for at least 15 years. In 1969, Carmen Richardson, a resident alien of Arizona who met all requirements for welfare eligibility except the residency requirement, filed a class action lawsuit against the Commissioner of the State's Department of Public Welfare questioning the constitutionality of that requirement. The three-judge court in the District of Arizona found in favor of Richardson, but the Commissioner appealed. In the same year, a similar class action suit was filed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. In this case, resident aliens of Pennsylvania challenged state law which dictated that if a Pennsylvania resident did not qualify for federal aid then he or she could only receive welfare benefits from the state if he or she were a citizen or had applied for citizenship. This three-judge court also found in favor of the resident aliens. However, one judge disagreed, and the defendants, namely the Executive Director of the Philadelphia County Board of Assistance and the Secretary of the Commonwealth's Department of Public Welfare, appealed.


Does a state, like Arizona or Pennsylvania, violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment when it denies welfare benefits to those who are not United States citizens or to aliens who have not lived in this country for a certain number of years?

Media for Graham v. Richardson

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 22, 1971 in Graham v. Richardson

Warren E. Burger:

We’ll hear arguments next in Number 609, Graham, Commissioner of Public Welfare against Richardson.

Mr. Flam, you may proceed whenever you’re ready.

Michael S. Flam:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

This case involves the validity of Arizona’s legislative policy which requires a person to be a United States’ citizen or in lieu of United States citizenship, a resident of the United States for 15 years as a condition for obtaining welfare benefits in the State of Arizona.

There are seven other states that have similar provisions.

Briefly, the facts, the named appellee Carmen Richardson is an alien lawfully admitted to this country under our laws.

She has been a continuous resident of the State of Arizona for 13 years.

Mrs. Richardson, prior to the filing of the complaint was eligible for assistance under the aid to the Permanently and Totally Disabled Program but for the United States citizenship requirement for in lieu of U.S. citizenship to 15 years to national residency requirement.

Appellee filed a class action lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Arizona attacking the constitutionality of the citizenship requirements.

It claimed in (Inaudible) was that the citizenship requirements violated her right to travel and denied her Equal Protection under the law as guaranteed by the United States Constitution.

She also alleged two statutory grounds; one that the statute violated the Social Security Act; and two, that the statute violated 42 United States Code 2000d.

The District Court after hearing enjoined the appellant from enforcing that United States citizenship requirement as provided by Arizona Law and there after upon motion of the appellant state judgment pending judicial review by this Court.

We would first like to point out that there has been no invidious discrimination in this case as was found in the case of Shapiro v. Thompson.

All the state has done in this case is to create two classes for determining who shall be eligible for welfare benefits in the State of Arizona.

One class is citizens, the other are aliens.

This Court, by prior decisions have allowed states to favor citizens over aliens in their war on poverty.

Specifically we direct the Court’s attention to the case of People v. Crane wherein Justice Cardozo stated “To disqualify aliens as discrimination indeed but not arbitrary discrimination.”

Potter Stewart:

That wasn’t a decision by this Court?

Michael S. Flam:

No it was the decision of the lower court which is affirmed by the United States Court without an opinion.

But his opinion in the lower courts is very instructive.

To disqualify aliens is discrimination indeed but not arbitrary discrimination.

For the principle of exclusion is the restriction of a resources to the state to the advancement and profit of members of the state.

Ungenerous and unwise, such a discrimination maybe is not for that reason unlawful.

Further, last term this Court decided the case of Dandridge v. Williams, which we feel is very instructive.

In that case, this Court stated in the area of economics and social welfare, the state does not violate Equal Protection merely because the classification made by its laws were imperfect.

If the classification has some reasonable basis, it does not offend the United States Constitution.

Thurgood Marshall:

What is the reasonable basis for this one?

Michael S. Flam:

Yes sir, yes Mr. Justice Marshall.

We submit the state does have a reasonable basis for favoring U.S. citizens over aliens.

Funds available for welfare purposes in the State of Arizona are quite limited.