Califano v. Goldfarb
430 U.S. 199 (1977)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Califano v. Goldfarb, 430 U.S. 199 (1977)

Califano v. Goldfarb

No. 75-699

Argued October 5, 1976

Decided March 2, 1977

430 U.S. 199

Syllabus

Under the Social Security Act survivors' benefits based on the earnings of a deceased husband covered by the Act are payable to his widow regardless of dependency, but under 42 U.S.C. § 402(f)(1)(D), such benefits on the basis of the earnings of a deceased wife covered by the Act are payable to her widower only if he was receiving at least half of his support from her. In a suit challenging these provisions, a three-judge District Court held that the different treatment of men and women mandated by § 402 (f)(1)(D) constituted invidious discrimination against female wage earners by affording them less protection for their surviving spouses than is provided to male employees.

Held: The judgment is affirmed. Pp. 430 U. S. 204-217; 430 U. S. 217-224.

396 F.Supp. 308, affirmed.

MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN, joined by MR. JUSTICE WHITE, MR JUSTICE MARSHALL, and MR. JUSTICE POWELL, concluded that the gender-based distinction created by § 402(f)(1)(D) violates the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld,420 U. S. 636; Frontiero v. Richardson,411 U. S. 677. Pp. 430 U. S. 204-217.

(a) Such distinction, which results in the efforts of female workers required to pay social security taxes producing less protection for their spouses than is produced by the efforts of male workers, is constitutionally forbidden, at least when supported by no more substantial justification than "archaic and overbroad" generalizations or "old notions," such as "assumptions as to dependency," that are more consistent with "the role-typing society has long imposed" than with contemporary reality. Pp. 430 U. S. 204-207.

(b) Equal protection analysis here cannot center solely on the distinction drawn between widowers and widows, but must be focused as well on the gender-based discrimination against covered female wage earners. Pp. 430 U. S. 207-209.

(c) The fact that a covered employee's interest in future social security benefits is "noncontractual" does not preclude any claim of

Page 430 U. S. 200

equal protection denial, but benefits

"directly related to years worked and amount earned by a covered employee, and not to the needs of the beneficiaries directly . . . , must be distributed according to classifications which do not without sufficient justification differentiate among covered employees solely on the basis of sex,"

Wiesenfeld, supra at 420 U. S. 647. Pp. 430 U. S. 210-212.

(d) It appears from § 402(f)(1)(D)'s phrasing and legislative history, as well as from the general scheme of the Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance benefits program, that the differential treatment of nondependent widows and widowers results not from a deliberate congressional intention to remedy the arguably greater needs of the former, but rather from an intention to aid the dependent spouses of deceased wage earners, coupled with a presumption that wives are usually dependent. The only justification for a classification based on this latter presumption is the unverified assumption that it would save the Government time, money, and effort simply to pay benefits to all widows, rather than to require proof of dependency of both sexes, and such an assumption does not suffice to justify a gender-based discrimination in the distribution of employment-related benefits. Pp. 430 U. S. 212-217.

MR. JUSTICE STEVENS concluded that the relevant discrimination is against surviving male spouses, rather than against deceased female wage earners, that such discrimination is merely the accidental byproduct of a traditional way of thinking about females, and that something more than accident is necessary to justify, under the Fifth Amendment, the disparate treatment of persons who have as strong a claim to equal treatment as do similarly situated surviving spouses. Pp. 430 U. S. 217-224.

BRENNAN, J., announced the Court's judgment and delivered an opinion, in which WHITE, MARSHALL, and POWELL, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 430 U. S. 217. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 430 U. S. 224.

Page 430 U. S. 201

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