RESPONDENT: International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace & Agricultural Implement Workers of America
LOCATION: Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation
DOCKET NO.: 86-1471
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
CITATION: 485 US 360 (1988)
ARGUED: Dec 07, 1987
DECIDED: Mar 23, 1988
Lawrence S. Robbins - on behalf of the Appellant
Richard Walker Mchugh - for appellees
Facts of the case
Media for Lyng v. International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace & Agricultural Implement Workers of America
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 07, 1987 in Lyng v. International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace & Agricultural Implement Workers of America
William H. Rehnquist:
We'll hear argument first this morning in No. 86-1471, Richard Lyng v. International Union.
Mr. Robbins, you may proceed whenever you're ready.
Lawrence S. Robbins:
Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court.
In the 23 years since the Food Stamp Act of 1964 was enacted, Congress has many times considered and several times enacted measures designed to restrict the availability of food stamps to households with members who were on strike.
In 1981, the 97th Congress enacted an amendment to the Food Stamp Act now codified at 7 U.S.C. 2015(d)(3) whose Constitutionality is at issue in the case this morning.
That amendment generally provides that households that contain strikers are not eligible for food stamps by reason of the loss of income occasioned by the strike.
It provides moreover that households eligible for food stamps prior to the strike will retain their eligibility but will not receive any additional food stamps by reason of that loss of income.
Harry A. Blackmun:
What is the purpose of that exception do you think, Mr. Robbins?
Lawrence S. Robbins:
I think, Justice Blackmun, that Congress sought to strike what I would call a balance of competing interests.
By retaining the eligibility, households were placed in no worse position by virtue of the strike.
Congress simply sought not to permit the loss of income occasioned by the strike itself to increase the eligibility for food stamps.
So in that sense, it doesn't deprive households of an eligibility that vested prior to the time the strike began.
Sandra Day O'Connor:
Mr. Robbins, is there any evidence in the legislative history that one of the purposes was to somehow effect or establish national labor policy in any way?
Was this just a budget device to save money, or was the exception in there to further some labor policy of the government?
Lawrence S. Robbins:
I think, Justice O'Connor, Congress sought to promote three objectives, and it articulated those objectives in the accompanying Senate report, I believe it's 97-35, that accompanied the legislation in 1931.
Those three purposes are first, as Your Honor mentioned, to achieve what Congress wished to be dramatic changes in its words, in the Federal spending policy.
Congress sought to reduce the overall cost of the Food Stamp program and the Congressional Budget Office estimated in fact that the amendment actually adopted in 2015(d)(3) would save approximately $165 million in food stamp outlays over the three year period 1982 to 1984.
But there were two other objectives as well, apart from simple saving of revenue.
First, Congress believed that it was tying the receipt of food stamps to the ability and willingness to work.
It thought that was consistent with the balance of the food stamp scheme.
It believed and said, that strikers have foregone available employment voluntarily and that union strike funds should be the principal source of benefits during a work stoppage.
Finally and more clearly I think directed to Your Honor's question, Congress attempted to promote additional governmental neutrality in labor disputes.
It believed that providing food stamps to striking workers is an incentive to wait out management, in the Senate Committee's words, rather than to reach compromises.
And it decided that it wished to withdraw that incentive from labor management's disputes.
Now, the District Court for the District of Columbia recognized that these were rational goals and that the legislation enacted in 2015(d)(3) is, to use the District Court's words,
"rationally related to legitimate legislative objectives. "
but it struck the statute down anyway.
Applying a rather loose amalgam of rational based and heightened scrutiny, the Court found that the statute irrationally discriminated against strikers, unlawfully impinges on their free association rights as well as the rights of their families and their unions to free association and exacts an excessive price for the protected right to strike.
We believe each of these conclusions to be mistaken and we ask this Court this morning to reverse.
Let me turn first, if I might, to the equal protection claim in the case.