Shapiro v. Thompson (1968) considered the constitutionality of a state law that established a one-year residency requirement for welfare recipients. The Court struck down the law, finding it a violation of the "right to travel" (really, more the right to migrate). The Court siad it had "no reason to ascribe the source to any particular constitutional provision," relying instead on the "fundamental rights" prong of equal protection analysis. In a subsequent case, the Court upheld residency requirement for in-state tuition benefits. In so doing, the Court distinguished Shapiro, which it said involved access to "basic necessities of life." In Zobel v Williams, the Court, 8 to 1, struck down a Alaska scheme that distributed royalties from the state's mineral revenues to state residents based on the length of state residency. Residents received $50 in benefits for each year they lived in Alaska. Various justices offered three different reasons for invalidating the plan.
Finally, in Saenz,
the Court breathed new life into the Citizenship Clause of the
Amendment in finding that clause to be violated by a California law
set lower welfare benefits for newer residents than for long-term
The Court says the clause "does not allow for degrees of citizenship
on length of residence."
Shapiro v. Thompson (1969)
Zobel v. Williams (1982)
Saenz v. Roe (1999)
2. Is the right to travel implicated, and a higher level of judicial scrutiny applied, when the government imposes a gasoline tax? When the government bans travel to a foreign country such as Cuba? When it denies a passport for character reasons?
3. How would the Court distinguish the denial of welfare benefits to new residents (unconstitutional) from the denial of instate-tuition breaks to new residents (constitutional)? How would the Court likely decide cases involving a denial of emergency medical benefits to new residents? What about a law requiring new residents to live in a state for 6 months before they can file for divorce?
4. What are examples of state benefits that could be called "basic necessities of life"?
5. What about voting? How long of a durational residency requirement could a state establish for voting in state elections?
6. Did the Alaska law challenged in Zobel have the effect of encouraging or discouraging migration to Alaska? Did it have the effect of discouraging emmigration from Alaska? Should we be concerned about the possibility of other states adopting similar laws and effectively locking long-term residents into continued residency?
7. What was the strongest justification Alaska offered for its law?
8. After Saenz, what--if anything--can a high-benefit state do to avoid becoming a magnet to welfare recipients in low-benefit states?