CALIFANO V. WESTCOTT, 443 U. S. 76 (1979)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Califano v. Westcott, 443 U.S. 76 (1979)

Califano v. Westcott

No. 78-437

Argued April 16, 1979

Decided June 25, 1979*

443 U.S. 76


Section 407 of the Social Security Act, which governs the Aid to Families with Dependent Children, Unemployed Father (AFDC-UF) program, provides benefits to families whose dependent children have been deprived of parental support because of the unemployment of the father, but does not provide such benefits when the mother becomes unemployed. This class action was instituted in Federal District Court against the Secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (Secretary) and the Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Welfare (Commissioner) by appellees, two couples (each having an infant son) who satisfy all the requirements for AFDC-UF benefits except for the requirement that the parent who is "unemployed" within the meaning of the Act and applicable regulations be the father. Appellees alleged that § 407 and its implementing regulations discriminate on the basis of gender in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, and sought declaratory and injunctive relief. The District Court declared § 407 unconstitutional insofar as it establishes a classification which discriminates solely on the basis of sex, and determined that extension of the AFDC-UF program to all families with needy children where either parent is unemployed, rather than nullification of the program, was the proper remedial course. Subsequently, the District Court declined to modify its order so as to permit the Commissioner to pay benefits only to those families where needy children have been deprived of parental support by the unemployment of the family's "principal wage-earner." The Secretary challenges only the holding on the constitutionality of § 407, whereas the Commissioner challenges only the relief.


1. The gender classification of § 407 is not substantially related to the attainment of any important and valid statutory goals; it is, rather,

Page 443 U. S. 77

part of the "baggage of sexual stereotypes," Orr v. Orr, 440 U. S. 268, 440 U. S. 283, that presumes the father has the "primary responsibility to provide a home and its essentials," Stanton v. Stanton, 421 U. S. 7, 421 U. S. 10, while the mother is the "center of home and family life." Taylor v. Louisiana, 419 U. S. 522, 419 U. S. 534 n. 15. Legislation that rests on such presumptions, without more, cannot survive scrutiny under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Pp. 443 U. S. 83-89.

(a) The constitutionality of § 407 cannot be sustained on the theory that, although it incorporates a gender distinction, it does not discriminate against women as a class because it affects family units, rather than individuals. Pp. 443 U. S. 83-85.

(b) Nor can § 407's gender distinction survive constitutional scrutiny as being substantially related to achievement of an important governmental objective. It does not serve the statutory goal of providing aid for needy children, nor is it substantially related to achieving the alleged objective of the AFDC-UF program of reducing the incentive for fathers to desert in order to make their families eligible for assistance. Pp. 443 U. S. 85-89.

2. The District Court's remedial order was proper. Pp. 443 U. S. 89-93.

(a) Since no party has argued that nullification of the AFDC-UF program is the proper remedial course, this Court would be inclined to consider that issue only if the power to order extension of the program were clearly beyond the constitutional competence of a federal district court. However, this Court's previous decisions, which routinely have affirmed district court judgments ordering extension of federal welfare programs, suggest strongly that no such remedial incapacity exists. Pp.89-91.

(b) The District Court, in ordering that benefits be paid to families in which either the mother or the father is unemployed within the meaning of the Act, rather than accepting the "principal wage-earner" model suggested by the Commissioner, adopted the simplest and most equitable extension possible. Pp. 443 U. S. 91-93.

460 F.Supp. 737, affirmed.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which BURGER, C.J.,and STEWART and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined, post, p. 443 U. S. 93.

Page 443 U. S. 78

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