Facts of the Case
A man who had been left to care for his infant son upon the death of his wife–a teacher whose earnings had been the couple’s principal source of support during their marriage and from whose earnings social security contributions had been deducted–applied for Social Security Act survivors’ benefits for himself and his son. Although he obtained benefits for the son, the widower was denied benefits for himself on the ground that survivors’ benefits were allowable only to women under
Does the gender-based distinction in Social Security benefits violate the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment?
Yes. Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. delivered the opinion for the 8-0 majority. The Supreme Court held that the purpose of the social security benefits for the surviving spouse and children is to enable the surviving spouse to properly care for the children, regardless of the gender of the parent. Gender-based discrimination regarding these benefits is therefore both illogical and counter-productive.Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr. wrote a concurring opinion in which he argued that the gender-based classification of the social security benefits does not serve any legitimate government interest. Chief Justice Warren E. Burger joined in the concurring opinion. In his opinion concurring in the judgment, Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote that the majority’s opinion overreached the bounds of the question by ruling on whether the statute violated the Fifth Amendment. He argued that the statute does not serve a valid legislative purpose and could be overturned on that basis alone.Justice William O. Douglas did not participate in either the discussion or the decision of this case.
- Citation: 420 US 636 (1975)
- Argued: Jan 20, 1975
- Decided Mar 19, 1975