BOWEN V. GILLIARD, 483 U. S. 587 (1987)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Bowen v. Gilliard, 483 U.S. 587 (1987)

Bowen v. Gilliard

No. 86-509

Argued April 22, 1987

Decided June 25, 1987*

483 U.S. 587


In 1975, federal statutes governing the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program required, as a condition of eligibility, that applicants for assistance assign to the State any right to receive child support payments for any family member included in the family unit, but a recipient of aid (the amount of which is determined by the number and income of persons in the family unit) could exclude a child for whom support payments were being made from the family unit if it was financially advantageous to do so, even though the child continued to live with the family. The Deficit Reduction Act of 1984 (DEFRA) amended the AFDC program to require families to include in the filing unit all children living in the same home, including those for whom support payments were being received. Under a separate amendment, the first $50 per month of child support collected by the State must be remitted to the family and not counted as income in determining its benefit level. Thus, if the assigned support exceeded $50 plus the difference in the benefit level resulting from adding the child to the family unit, the family would suffer financially as compared with its total income prior to the amendment. In a class action, the Federal District Court held that North Carolina's implementing regulations were in conformance with the statute, but that the 1984 statutory scheme violated the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment and its equal protection component, as well as the Takings Clause of that Amendment.


1. The statutory scheme does not violate Fifth Amendment due process and equal protection principles. The DEFRA amendment rationally serves both Congress' goal of decreasing federal expenditures, and the Government's separate interest in distributing benefits among competing needy families in a fair way. It was also rational for Congress to adjust the AFDC program to reflect the fact that support money generally provides significant benefits for entire family units. There is no

Page 483 U. S. 588

merit to the view that some form of "heightened scrutiny" must be applied because the amendment interferes with a family's fundamental right to live in the type of family unit it chooses by intruding on choices concerning family living arrangements. The appropriate standard of review here is whether Congress had a "rational basis" for its decision. Cf. Lyng v. Castillo, 477 U. S. 635. Pp. 483 U. S. 598-603.

2. The DEFRA amendment does not violate the Fifth Amendment's Takings Clause. The family members other than the supported child have no claim, since they have no protected property rights to continued AFDC benefits at the same level as before the amendment. Nor does the simple inclusion of the support income in the benefit calculation have any legal effect on the supported child's right to have it used for his or her benefit. The argument that the requirement that an AFDC applicant must assign the support payments to the State, which then, in effect, remits the amount collected to the custodial parent as part of the AFDC payment to be used for the benefit of the entire family, modifies the child's interest in the use of the money so dramatically that it constitutes a taking of the child's property is refuted by three pertinent factors. First, there is no such substantial "economic impact" on the child's right to have support funds used for his or her exclusive benefit as to constitute a "taking." Second, the child holds no vested protectable expectation that the parent will continue to receive identical support payments on the child's behalf, and that the child will enjoy the same rights with respect to them. Third, the character of the governmental action militates against a finding that the State or Federal Governments unconstitutionally take property through the AFDC program. Pp. 483 U. S. 603-609.

633 F.Supp. 1529, reversed.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J.,and WHITE, POWELL, O'CONNOR, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 483 U. S. 609. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 483 U. S. 634.

Page 483 U. S. 589

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