ZOBEL V. WILLIAMS, 457 U. S. 55 (1982)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Zobel v. Williams, 457 U.S. 55 (1982)

Zobel v. Williams

No. 80-1146

Argued October 7, 1981

Decided June 14, 1982

457 U.S. 55


After Alaska amended its Constitution to establish a Permanent Fund into which the State must deposit at least 25% of its mineral income each year, the state legislature, in 1980, enacted a dividend program to distribute annually a portion of the Fund's earnings directly to the State's adult residents. Under the plan, each adult resident receives one dividend unit for each year of residency subsequent to 1959, the first year of Alaska's statehood. Appellants, residents of Alaska since 1978, brought an action in an Alaska state court challenging the statutory dividend distribution plan as violative of, inter alia, their right to equal protection guarantees. The trial court granted summary judgment in appellants' favor, but the Alaska Supreme Court reversed and upheld the statute.

Held: The Alaska dividend distribution plan violates the guarantees of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 457 U. S. 58-65.

(a) Rather than imposing any threshold waiting period for entitlement to dividend benefits or establishing a test of bona fides of state residence, the dividend statute creates fixed, permanent distinctions between an ever-increasing number of classes of concededly bona fide residents based on how long they have lived in the State. Sosna v. Iowa, 419 U. S. 393; Memorial Hospital v. Maricopa County, 415 U. S. 250; Dunn v. Blumstein, 405 U. S. 330; and Shapiro v. Thompson, 394 U. S. 618, distinguished. When a state distributes benefits unequally, the distinctions it makes are subject to scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause, and generally a law will survive that scrutiny if the distinctions rationally further a legitimate state purpose. Pp. 457 U. S. 58-61.

(b) Alaska has shown no valid state interests that are rationally served by the distinctions it makes between citizens who established residence before 1959 and those who have become residents since then. Neither the State's claimed interest in creating a financial incentive for individuals to establish and maintain residence in Alaska nor its claimed interest in assuring prudent management of the Permanent Fund is rationally related to such distinctions. And the State's interest in rewarding citizens for past contributions is not a legitimate state purpose. Alaska's reasoning could open the door to state apportionment of other rights, benefits, and services according to length of residency, and would

Page 457 U. S. 56

permit the states to divide citizens into expanding numbers of permanent classes. Such a result would be clearly impermissible. Pp. 457 U. S. 61-64.

619 P.2d 448, reversed and remanded.

BURGER, C.J.,delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and POWELL, JJ., joined, post, p. 457 U. S. 65. O'CONNOR, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 457 U. S. 71. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 457 U. S. 81.

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