Townsend v. Swank

LOCATION: Former Ada County Courthouse

DOCKET NO.: 70-5021
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1971-1972)

CITATION: 404 US 282 (1971)
ARGUED: Nov 08, 1971
DECIDED: Dec 20, 1971

Donald J. Veverka - for appellees
Michael F. Lefkow - for Georgia Townsend
M. James Spitzer, Jr. - for Loverta Alexander and others pro hac vice, by special leave of Court

Facts of the case


Media for Townsend v. Swank

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 08, 1971 in Townsend v. Swank

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next in number 5021, Townsend against The Illinois Department of Public Aid.

Mr. Lefkow, you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Michael F. Lefkow:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

The State of Illinois makes payments under its federally subsidized program of Aid to Families with Dependent Children, to needy dependent children between the ages of 18 to 21 years old, attending a vocational or technical training school, but denies payments to children attending a junior college, a college or a university.

The issue in this case, is whether the discrimination is inconsistent with the requirements and the purposes of the Social Security Act and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Mrs. Georgia Townsend and her daughter Omega were a family within the meaning of the Act and Omega was a dependent child, but they were cut-off and denied any aid under the AFDC program while they met all the requirements, specified by Congress.

Appellant's rely on this Court's decision in King versus Smith which invalidated Alabama scheme of absolute disqualification of eligible children on the fiction that they had a substitute father.

There, Alabama defined parent in a manner inconsistent with the Act and with its purposes.

Illinois likewise, has defined dependent children in a manner inconsistent with the Act and its purposes, by totally excluding from AFDC benefits, children attending a college or university.

We believe that King clearly prohibits the Illinois' absolute disqualification.

A reading of King requires an interpretation of the definitional section for Section 406 (a) that it is mandatory upon the State of Illinois to provide some aid to all those defined by Congress as dependent children.

This requirement on the States was affirmed by this Court in Dandridge versus Williams.

That in order to avoid violating the statute itself, a state must provide some aid to all eligible families and all eligible children.

Now, we submit that in addition to these two cases, there are a number of other important reasons why this statute is mandatory.

One is the plain meaning of the statute.

Another, is necessary to make a mandatory to avoid frustrating the purposes of the Act.

It is necessary for harmonious construction of the Federal Statutory Scheme.

It is necessary because of the legislative history.

It is necessary to avoid an Equal Protection violation and it is necessary to prevent Illinois from withdrawing from this part of the AFDC program.

I will return to the plain meaning of the statute.

The state has asserted that it had discretion whether it wants to adopt the definitional Section of 406 (a).

We submit that there is -- the plain wording of the statute grants the state no discretion.

A similar section, Section 407, would on its face grant the state discretion to participate in the unemployed or underemployed program which was added to the Act in 1961.

And this Court has stated in King versus Smith that that particular Section 407 is optional with the state, but there is nothing on the face of the statute in 406 (a) to indicate that the state has discretion to pick and choose among the children made eligible by Congress.

We submit that the legal standard for testing a state’s compliance is the Act itself.

Next, it is necessary to make it mandatory to avoid frustrating the purposes of the Act.

The purpose of the Act is interpreted by this Court in King, is for the protection of dependent children.

That is the paramount goal and Congress in 1964, in amending the Social Security Act, stated that the assumption that children are no longer dependent, is not valid as applied to children still attending school.

Further, by denying these children --

Warren E. Burger:

What if they were 25 years old and attending graduate school, would the argument be the same?