Schweiker v. Wilson

LOCATION:Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club

DOCKET NO.: 79-1380
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)

CITATION: 450 US 221 (1981)
ARGUED: Dec 02, 1980
DECIDED: Mar 04, 1981

Elliott Schulder – on behalf of the Appellant
James D. Weill – on behalf of the Appellee

Facts of the case


Media for Schweiker v. Wilson

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – December 02, 1980 in Schweiker v. Wilson

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – March 04, 1981 in Schweiker v. Wilson

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the courts in Secretary of Health and Human Services against Wilson will be announced by Justice Blackmun.

Harry A. Blackmun:

This case is formally Harris, Secretary against Wilson and now, Schweiker Secretary against Wilson comes to us by way of appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

The Supplemental Security Income program which is part of the Social Security program provides a subsistence allowance to the needy aged, and blind, and disabled persons.

Inmates of public institutions however generally are excluded from this program.

But there is an exception to this exclusion and that under the Act a reduced amount of SSI benefits amounting to comfort money is provided to and otherwise eligible person in the facility that receives Medicaid funds for his care.

The appellees reside in public mental institutions that do not receive Medicaid funds for their care.

They brought this class action in Federal Court challenging their exclusion from the reduced SSI benefits.

The District Court held that the exclusion was unconstitutional as violative of the equal protection component of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment on the ground that the classification had no substantial relation to the object of the legislation.

In an opinion filed today with the clerk, we reversed that judgment.

We hold that the appellees’ rights to equal protection were not violated by the denial of SSI benefits.

Congress made an acceptable distinction not between the mentally ill, on the one hand, and the nonmentally ill in the other, but between residence in public institutions receiving Medicaid funds and those in institutions not receiving such funds.

The classification is to be judged under the rational-basis standard and this does not allow us to substitute our personal notions of good public policy for those of the Congress.

It was not irrational for Congress to elect, in view of budgetary constrains to shoulder only part of the burden of supplying this comfort money allowance, leaving to the States the primary responsibility for making the allowance to those who reside in state-run institutions.

I am authorized to say Mr. Justice Powell has filed a dissenting opinion and he’s joined therein by Justices Brennan and Marshall and Stevens.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you, Mr. Justice Blackmun.