Morton v. Ruiz

LOCATION: Office of the Indiana Secretary of State

DOCKET NO.: 72-1052
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 415 US 199 (1974)
ARGUED: Nov 05, 1973 / Nov 06, 1973
DECIDED: Feb 20, 1974

Harry R. Sachse - for petitioner
Winton D. Woods, Jr. - for respondents

Facts of the case


Media for Morton v. Ruiz

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 05, 1973 in Morton v. Ruiz
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 06, 1973 in Morton v. Ruiz

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - February 20, 1974 in Morton v. Ruiz

Warren E. Burger:

Mr. Justice Blackmun will announce the disposition of number 72-1052, Morton against Ruiz.

Harry A. Blackmun:

This case presents an issue in the administration of the Federal Assistance Program for Needy Indians.

That issue is whether the General Assistance Benefits are available only to Indians living on reservations in the United States or to put it conversely, whether they are unavailable to Indians who live off, wherever they live, or whether they -- to those who live off although near a reservation.

The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit by divided vote, reversed a District Court summary judgment in favor of the Secretary of the Interior, and against the respondents here.

The respondents are Mr. And Mrs. Ruiz who are Papago Indians.

They lived on the reservation in Arizona, but left it in 1940 to seek employment 15 miles away at the copper mines at Ajo.

Mr. Ruiz found work there, and they settled in a community Indian Village.

The Ruizes have lived continuously since 1940 and apart from his work in the copper mine, however, they have not been assimilated into the dominant culture and they have maintained a close tie with the nearby reservation.

In 1967 the mine was shut down by a strike.

Mr. Ruiz received $15 a week striker's benefits paid by his union.

He was denied Welfare Benefits by the State of Arizona, and he then applied for General Assistance Benefits from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

This relief was denied him on the ground that one to be eligible for General Assistance had to be living on an Indian Reservation.

This was the sole ground for that denial.

The present action was then instituted against the Secretary.

Entitlement to General Assistance was claimed both on statutory grounds and on constitutional grounds.

This took us directly to the so called Snyder Act of 1921, which authorizes in very broad terms the General Assistance program.

It also takes us to the several annual appropriations acts for the BIA program.

The Court of Appeals concluded that the Snyder Act contained no geographical limitations on Indian programs, and that the Secretary was powerless to shrink coverage down to some lesser group of Indian beneficiaries than the all inclusive group of Indians throughout the country.

In a long opinion filed today, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals, but we do so on a ground narrower than not adopted by the Ninth Circuit.

We do not resolve the issue whether Congress intended for all Indians, regardless of residence and that the degree of assimilation to be eligible for the General Assistance program.

We look only at the intent of Congress with respect to Indian complainants of the kind in the case before us and we hold that those claimants who are a full-blooded un-assimilated Indians, living in an Indian community near their native reservation, and who maintain close economic and social ties with that reservation, are eligible for the General Assistance Benefits.

We also touch upon the necessity of the Bureau's complying with the requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act when it makes classifications in the administration of General Assistance program.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals is therefore affirmed and the case is remanded for further proceedings.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you Mr. Justice Blackmun.