Saenz v. Roe

LOCATION:Residence of Brenda Roe

DOCKET NO.: 98-97
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 526 US 489 (1999)
ARGUED: Jan 13, 1999
DECIDED: May 17, 1999

Mark D. Rosenbaum – Argued the cause for the respondents
Seth P. Waxman – Argued the cause for the United States, as amicus curiae, by special leave of court
Theodore Garelis – Argued the cause for the petitioners

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 state statute, authorizing states receiving Temporary Assistance to Needy Families to pay the benefit amount of another State’s TANF to its first year residents, violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s right-to-travel protections?

Media for Saenz v. Roe

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – January 13, 1999 in Saenz v. Roe

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – May 17, 1999 in Saenz v. Roe

The opinion of the Court in No. 98-97, Saenz versus Roe will be announced by Justice Stevens.

John Paul Stevens:

This case which is originally filed as Anderson against Roe, but now has a different name because California has a new Director of its Department of Social Services, comes to us from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

In 1992, California enacted a statute that limits the maximum welfare benefits available to a family that has resided in California for less than 12 months.

It limits it to the amount of what have been payable by the state from which the family had moved.

As an example to illustrate the way the statute works, the record indicates that for a family of three, California had a welfare grant of $641 per month.

Family coming from Louisiana however would receive only $190 a month, and one coming from Oklahoma will receive $341 a month.

The variation depending on the state from which the family came.

The questions presented by the case are whether the 1992 statute was constitutional when it was enacted, and if not whether an amendment of the Social Security Act enacted by Congress in 1996 affects that determination.

Without reaching the merits the Court of Appeals affirmed a preliminary injunction entered by the District Courts enjoining implementation of the statute.

We of course granted certiorari and we now affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

What we have described as a constitutional right to travel actually embraces three different components.

The right to enter and leave another state, the right to be treated as a welcome visitor while temporary present in another state, and for those travelers who would like to become permanent residents, the right to be treated like other citizens of that state.

It is this last aspect of the right to travel that is clearly implicated by California’s durational residency requirement.

It is understood that the respondents and the members of the class that they represent are citizens of California, and that their need for welfare benefits is unrelated to the length of time they have resided in California.

The classifications challenged in this case are defined entirely by, first, the period of residency in California and secondly, the location of the state from which the disfavored class members have come.

In 1969, in a case called Shapiro against Thompson, this Court held that it was constitutionally impermissible for a state to enact a durational residence requirement to inhibit the migration of needy persons into the state.

California which spends nearly $3 billion a year on its welfare program does not contend that the statute was enacted to deter people from coming to California, rather it argues that the statute purpose was entirely fiscal, noting that it would save over $10 million a year if it could be enforced.

The State’s legitimate interest in saving money does not however provide an adequate justification for its decision to discriminate among equally eligible citizens.

The right of a newly arrived citizen to the same privileges and immunities enjoyed by other citizens is plainly identified in the Fourteenth Amendment’s Privilege or Immunities Clause.

Of greater importance, the Fourteenth Amendment’s Citizenship Clause expressly equates citizenship with residents and does not tolerate a hierarchy of subclasses of similarly situated citizens based on the location of their prior residence.

The Congress passed a statute approving durational residency requirements does not alter our analysis.

This Court has consistently held that Congress may not authorize the states to violate the Fourteenth Amendment.

Citizens of the United States, whether rich or poor, have the right to choose to be citizens of a state wherein they reside.

The states however do not have any right to select their citizens.

As Justice Jackson observed, if national citizenship means less than this, it means nothing.

We therefore affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

The Chief Justice has filed a dissenting opinion, which Justice Thomas has joined, and Justice Thomas has filed a dissenting opinion in which the Chief Justice has joined.