Saenz v. Roe Case Brief

Why is the case important?

California passed a law that awarded less welfare benefits to residents who lived in California for less than 12 months than it paid other residents.

Facts of the case

Under the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA), states receiving Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) can pay the benefit amount of another State’s TANF program to residents who have lived in the State for less than 12 months. When California announced it would enforce this option, Brenda Roe brought this class action, on behalf of other first year residents, challenging the constitutionality of the durational residency requirement. On appeal from successive adverse rulings in the lower courts, the Supreme Court granted Rita Saenz, the Director of California’s Department of Social Services, certiorari.


Does a statute providing lower benefits to families who have lived in California for less than 12 months violate the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the Constitution?


Yes, the Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) applies the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment Privileges and Immunities Clause for nearly the first history. The Supreme Court determined that durational residency requirements violate the right to travel by denying a newly-arrived citizen the same privileges and immunities enjoyed by other citizens in the same state, and are therefore subject to strict scrutiny. The state’s legitimate interest in saving money provides no justification for its diction to discriminate among equally eligible citizens.


The Supreme Court noted the protections afforded to citizens under U.S. Const. amend. XIV imposed a limitation on the states’ powers and concluded that the statute impermissibly affected the rights of newly arrived citizens as to the same privileges and immunities enjoyed by other citizens of the same state, in violation of U.S. Const. amend. XIV . The statute discriminated against citizens new to the state, and since the right to travel embraced a citizen’s right to be treated equally in his or her new state of residence, the discriminatory classification was itself a penalty.

  • Case Brief: 1999
  • Petitioner: Saenz
  • Respondent: Roe
  • Decided by: Rehnquist Court

Citation: 526 US 489 (1999)
Argued: Jan 13, 1999
Decided: May 17, 1999