Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld

PETITIONER: Caspar Weinberger, Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare
RESPONDENT: Stephen Charles Wiesenfeld, etc.
LOCATION: New Brunswick, New Jersey Social Security Office

DOCKET NO.: 73-1892
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT:

CITATION: 420 US 636 (1975)
ARGUED: Jan 20, 1975
DECIDED: Mar 19, 1975

ADVOCATES:
Ruth Bader Ginsburg - for appellee
Keith A. Jones - argued the cause for the appellant

Facts of the case

Stephen Wiesenfeld and Paula Polatschek were married in 1970. Polatschek had worked as a teacher for the five years prior to their marriage and continued teaching after they were married. Her salary was the principle source of the couple’s income, and social security contributions were regularly deducted from her salary. In 1972, Polatschek died in childbirth, which left Wiesenfeld with the care of their newborn son. Wiesenfeld applied for social security benefits for himself and his son, and was told that his son could receive them but that he could not. Social Security Act provides benefits based on the earnings of a deceased husband and father that are available to both the children and the widow. The benefits for a deceased wife and mother, however, are only available to the children.

In 1973, Wiesenfeld sued on behalf of himself and similarly situated widowers. He claimed that the relevant section of the Social Security Act unfairly discriminated on the basis of sex and sought summary judgment. A three-judge panel of the district court granted Wiesenfeld’s motion for summary judgment

Question

Does the gender-based distinction in Social Security benefits violate the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment?

Media for Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 20, 1975 in Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - March 19, 1975 in Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

I also have to announce No. 73-1892, Weinberger, Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare against Wiesenfeld.

Under the Social Security Act, when a covered male worker dies, leaving a wife and minor children, survivors' benefits are paid both to the children and to the widow.

However, when a covered female worker dies, leaving a husband and minor children, survivors' benefits are paid only to the children and not to the widower.

A three-judge District Court in New Jersey held that this sex-based discrimination was unconstitutional because in violation of the equal protection component of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.

We agree and we affirm.

Mr. Justice Powell joined by the Chief Justice has filed a concurring opinion.

Mr. Justice Rehnquist has filed an opinion concurring in the result.

Mr. Justice Douglas took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you Mr. Justice Brennan.