SCHWEIKER V. WILSON, 450 U. S. 221 (1981)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Schweiker v. Wilson, 450 U.S. 221 (1981)

Schweiker v. Wilson

No. 79-1380

Argued December 2, 1980

Decided March 4, 1981

450 U.S. 221


The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, which is part of the Social Security Act, provides a subsistence allowance to needy aged, blind, and disabled persons. Inmates of public institutions are generally excluded from this program, except that, under § 1611(e)(1)(B) of the Act, a reduced amount of SSI benefits are provided to otherwise eligible persons in a hospital, extended care facility, nursing home, or intermediate care facility receiving Medicaid funds for their care. Appellees, aged 21 through 64 and residing in public mental institutions that do not receive Medicaid funds for their care, brought a class action in Federal District Court challenging their exclusion from the reduced SSI benefits. The District Court held such exclusion unconstitutional as violative of the equal protection guarantees of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment on the ground that the "mental health" classification could not withstand judicial scrutiny because it did not have a "substantial relation" to the object of the legislation in light of its "primary purpose."

Held: Appellees' rights to equal protection were not violated by denying them SSI benefits. Pp. 450 U. S. 230-239.

(a) In § 1611(e)(1)(B), Congress made a distinction not between the mentally ill and a group composed of nonmentally ill, but between residents in public institutions receiving Medicaid funds for their care and residents in such institutions not receiving such funds. To the extent that the statute has an indirect impact upon the mentally ill as a subset of publicly institutionalized persons, the record in this case presents no statistical support for a contention that the mentally ill as a class are burdened disproportionately to any other class affected by the classification. The indirect deprivation worked by this legislation upon appellees' class, whether or not the class is considered "suspect," does not, in the absence of any evidence that Congress deliberately intended to discriminate against the mentally ill, move this Court to regard it with a heightened scrutiny. Pp. 450 U. S. 230-234.

(b) The classification employed in § 1611(e)(1)(B) is to be judged under the rational basis standard, which does not allow this Court to

Page 450 U. S. 222

substitute its personal notions of good public policy for those of Congress. Under this standard, and based on the legislative history, it was not irrational for Congress to elect, in view of budgetary constraints, to shoulder only part of the burden of supplying a "comfort money" allowance, leaving the States with the primary responsibility for making such an allowance available to those residents in state-run institutions, and to decide that it is the Medicaid recipients in public institutions who are the most needy and deserving of the SSI benefits. Pp. 450 U. S. 234-239.

478 F.Supp. 1046, reversed.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and STEWART, WHITE, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined, post, p. 450 U. S. 239.

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