Lyng v. Automobile Workers
485 U.S. 360 (1988)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Lyng v. Automobile Workers, 485 U.S. 360 (1988)

Lyng v. International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace &

Agricultural Implement Workers of America

No. 86-1471

Argued December 7, 1987

Decided March 23, 1988

485 U.S. 360

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

Syllabus

Under § 109 of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981 (OBRA), no household may become eligible to participate in the food stamp program while any of its members is on strike, or receive an increase in the allotment of food stamps it is already receiving because the income of the striking member has decreased. Appellee unions and union members brought suit in Federal District Court, contending that § 109 is unconstitutional. The court granted appellees summary judgment and issued a declaratory judgment, holding the statute unconstitutional on the grounds that it interferes with appellees' associational rights and strikers' expressive rights under the First Amendment, and violates the equal protection component of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. The Secretary of Agriculture appealed the decision directly to this Court under 28 U.S.C. § 1252.

Held:

1. Section 109 does not violate the First Amendment. Pp. 485 U. S. 364-369.

(a) The statute does not infringe the individual appellees' right to associate with their families or the associational rights of the individual appellees and their unions. It does not prohibit individuals from dining together or associating together to conduct a strike, nor in any other way "directly and substantially" interfere with family living arrangements or workers' ability to combine together to assert their lawful rights. Even if isolated instances can be found in which a striking individual may have left the other members of his household in order to increase their allotment of food stamps or left his union for that purpose, in the overwhelming majority of cases, it is "exceedingly unlikely" that § 109 will have any effect at all. Cf. Lyng v. Castillo,477 U. S. 635. The Constitution does not require the Government to furnish funds to maximize the exercise of the right of association or to minimize any resulting economic hardship. Pp. 485 U. S. 364-368.

(b) The statute does not abridge appellees' right to express themselves about union matters free of coercion by the Government. Rather

Page 485 U. S. 361

than exacting payments from individuals, coercing particular beliefs, or requiring appellees to participate in political activities or support political views with which they disagree, § 109 merely declines to extend additional food stamp assistance to strikers simply because the strike has caused a decline in their income. Abood v. Detroit Bd. of Education,431 U. S. 209, distinguished. The Constitution does not confer an entitlement to such governmental funds as may be necessary for individuals to realize all the advantages of their right to free expression. P. 485 U. S. 369.

2. Section 109 does not violate the equal protection component of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, since it is rationally related to the legitimate governmental objective of avoiding undue favoritism in private labor disputes. Although the statute does work at least some discrimination against strikers and their households, this Court must defer to Congress' view that the disbursement of food stamps to such persons damages the program's public integrity, and thus endangers its legitimate goals. The fact that § 109 is harder on strikers than on "voluntary quitters" does not render it irrational, since the neutrality concern does not arise with respect to the latter persons. Congress' considered efforts to avoid favoritism are evidenced by § 109's provisos preserving prestrike eligibility and eligibility when a household member has refused to accept employment because of a strike or lockout. OBRA was also enacted for the legitimate purpose of protecting the Government's fiscal integrity by cutting expenditures, and, although this objective cannot be pursued by discriminating against individuals or groups, the Constitution does not permit this Court to disturb the judgment of Congress, the body having discretion as to how best to spend money to improve the general welfare, that passing § 109 along with its provisos was preferable to undertaking other budget cuts in the food stamp program. The contention that § 109 irrationally "strikes at the striker through his family" is without merit, since the food stamp program generally operates against the household of an ineligible person, and the fact that the Act determines benefits on a "household" rather than an individual basis is not constitutionally significant. Pp. 485 U. S. 370-374.

648 F.Supp. 1234, reversed.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and STEVENS, O'CONNOR, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 485 U. S. 374. KENNEDY, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

Page 485 U. S. 362

JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

A 1981 amendment to the Food Stamp Act states that no household shall become eligible to participate in the food stamp program during the time that any member of the household is on strike or shall increase the allotment of food stamps that it was receiving already because the income of the striking member has decreased. We must decide whether this provision is valid under the First and the Fifth Amendments.

I

In the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981 (OBRA), Pub.L. 97-35, 95 Stat. 357, Congress enacted a package of budget cuts throughout the Federal Government. Among the measures contained in OBRA were more than a dozen specific changes in the food stamp program, id. §§ 101-117. [Footnote 1] One of them was the amendment at issue in

Page 485 U. S. 363

this case, § 109 of OBRA, which is set out in the margin. [Footnote 2] The Committee Reports estimated that this measure alone would save a total of about $165 million in fiscal years 1982, 1983, and 1984. H.R.Rep. at 12; S.Rep. at 63.

In 1984, two labor unions and several individual union members brought suit against the Secretary of Agriculture in District Court, contending that § 109 is unconstitutional and requesting declaratory and injunctive relief. Plaintiffs moved for a preliminary injunction, and the Secretary moved to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that Congress' action was well within its constitutional prerogatives. After a hearing, the District Court denied both motions. 648 F.Supp. 1234, 1241 (DC 1986) (Appendix).

Both sides conducted discovery and filed cross-motions for summary judgment. On November 14, 1986, the District Court granted plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment and issued a declaratory judgment, holding the statute unconstitutional. 648 F.Supp. 1234. Specifically, the District Court found that the amendment to the Food Stamp Act was unconstitutional on three different grounds. First, it interferes or threatens to interfere with the First Amendment rights of the individual plaintiffs to associate with their families, with their unions, and with fellow union members, as

Page 485 U. S. 364

well as the reciprocal rights under the First Amendment of the union plaintiffs to their members' association with them. Second, it interferes with strikers' First Amendment right to express themselves about union matters free of coercion by the Government. Third, it violates the equal protection component of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. As the basis for its conclusion on the equal protection claim, the District Court mentioned several somewhat related deficiencies in the amendment: it betrays an animus against an unpopular political minority, it irrationally treats strikers worse than individuals who quit a job, and it impermissibly directs the onus of the striker's actions against the rest of his family. Id. at 1239-1241. The Secretary appealed the decision directly to this Court under 28 U.S.C. § 1252, and we noted probable jurisdiction. 481 U.S. 1036 (1987). We now reverse.

II

We deal first with the District Court's holding that § 109 violates the associational and expressive rights of appellees under the First Amendment. These claimed constitutional infringements are also pressed as a basis for finding that appellees' rights of "fundamental importance" have been burdened, thus requiring this Court to examine appellees' equal protection claims under a heightened standard of review. Zablocki v. Redhail,434 U. S. 374, 434 U. S. 383 (1978). Since we conclude that the statute does not infringe either the associational or expressive rights of appellees, we must reject both parts of this analysis.

A

The challenge to the statute based on the associational rights asserted by appellees is foreclosed by the reasoning this Court adopted in Lyng v. Castillo,477 U. S. 635 (1986). There we considered a constitutional challenge to the definition of "household" in the Food Stamp Act, 7 U.S.C. § 2012(i), which treats parents, siblings, and children who live together, but not more distant relatives or unrelated persons

Page 485 U. S. 365

who do so, as a single household for purposes of defining eligibility for food stamps. Although the challenge in that case was brought solely on equal protection grounds, and not under the First Amendment, the Court was obliged to decide whether the statutory classification should be reviewed under a stricter standard than mere rational basis review because it "directly and substantially' interfere[s] with family living arrangements and thereby burden[s] a fundamental right." 477 U.S. at 477 U. S. 638. The Court held that it did not, explaining that the definition of "household" does not

"order or prevent any group of persons from dining together. Indeed, in the overwhelming majority of cases, it probably has no effect at all. It is exceedingly unlikely that close relatives would choose to live apart simply to increase their allotment of food stamps, for the costs of separate housing would almost certainly exceed the incremental value of the additional stamps."

Ibid.; see also id. at 477 U. S. 643 (BRENNAN, J., dissenting) (stating that rational basis review is applicable); ibid. (WHITE, J., dissenting) (same).

The same rationale applies in this case. As was true of the provision at issue in Castillo, it is "exceedingly unlikely" that § 109 will "prevent any group of persons from dining together." Id. at 477 U. S. 638. Even if isolated instances can be found in which a striking individual may have left the other members of the household in order to increase their allotment of food stamps, [Footnote 3] "in the overwhelming majority of cases, [the statute] probably has no effect at all." Ibid. The statute certainly does not "order" any individuals not to dine together;

Page 485 U. S. 366

nor does it in any other way "directly and substantially' interfere with family living arrangements." Ibid.

The statute also does not infringe the associational rights of appellee individuals and their unions. We have recognized that

"one of the foundations of our society is the right of individuals to combine with other persons in pursuit of a common goal by lawful means,"

NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co.,458 U. S. 886, 458 U. S. 933 (1982), and our recognition of this right encompasses the combination of individual workers together in order better to assert their lawful rights. See, e.g., Railroad Trainmen v. Virginia,377 U. S. 1, 377 U. S. 5-6 (1964). But in this case, the statute at issue does not "directly and substantially' interfere" with appellees' ability to associate for this purpose. Lyng, supra, at 485 U. S. 638. [Footnote 4] It does not "order" appellees not to associate together for the purpose of conducting a strike, or for any other purpose, and it does not "prevent" them from associating together or burden their ability to do so in any significant manner. As we have just stated with respect to the effect of this statute on an individual's decision to remain in or to leave his or her household, it seems "exceedingly unlikely" that this statute will prevent individuals from continuing to associate together in unions to promote their lawful objectives. 477 U.S. at 477 U. S. 638.

Prior cases indicate that § 109 has no unconstitutional impact on the right of individuals to associate for various purposes. Lincoln Union v. Northwestern Iron & Metal Co.,335 U. S. 525, 335 U. S. 530-531 (1949), for example, held that, where a State forbids employers to restrict employment to members of a union, enforcement of that state policy does not abridge

Page 485 U. S. 367

the associational rights of unions or their members, despite their claim that a closed shop "is indispensable to the right of self-organization and the association of workers into unions.'" Similarly, in Board of Directors of Rotary Int'l v. Rotary Club,481 U. S. 537, 481 U. S. 548 (1987), we held that requiring Rotary Clubs to admit women "does not require the clubs to abandon or alter" any of their activities or their basic goals, and therefore did not abridge the members' associational rights. Both of those cases upheld state laws that exerted a much more direct and substantial threat to associational freedoms than the statute at issue here. [Footnote 5]

Page 485 U. S. 368

Any impact on associational rights in this case results from the Government's refusal to extend food stamp benefits to those on strike, who are now without their wage income. Denying such benefits makes it harder for strikers to maintain themselves and their families during the strike and exerts pressure on them to abandon their union. Strikers and their union would be much better off if food stamps were available, but the strikers' right of association does not require the Government to furnish funds to maximize the exercise of that right.

"We have held in several contexts [including the First Amendment] that a legislature's decision not to subsidize the exercise of a fundamental right does not infringe the right."

Regan v. Taxation with Representation of Washington,461 U. S. 540, 461 U. S. 549 (1983). Exercising the right to strike inevitably risks economic hardship, but we are not inclined to hold that the right of association requires the Government to minimize that result by qualifying the striker for food stamps.

In Ohio Bureau of Employment Services v. Hodory,431 U. S. 471 (1977), we upheld a statute that denied unemployment compensation benefits to workers who are thrown out of work as a result of a labor dispute other than a lockout, saying that the case "does not involve any discernible fundamental interest." Id. at 431 U. S. 489. [Footnote 6] Although the complaining worker there was a nonstriking employee of a parent company that found it necessary to close because its subsidiary was on strike, it is clear enough that the same result would have obtained had the striking employees themselves applied for compensation.

Page 485 U. S. 369

B

For the same reasons, we cannot agree that § 109 abridges appellees' right to express themselves about union matters free of coercion by the Government. Appellees rely on Abood v. Detroit Board of Education,431 U. S. 209 (1977). But we do not read either Abood or the First Amendment as providing support for this claim. In Abood, the challenged state law required certain employees to pay a fee to their representative union. We ruled that this law violated the First Amendment insofar as it allowed those funds to be used to promote political and ideological purposes with which the employees disagreed and to which they objected, because, by its terms, the employees were "compelled to make . . . contributions for political purposes." Id. at 431 U. S. 234. We based this conclusion on our observation that

"at the heart of the First Amendment is the notion that an individual should be free to believe as he will, and that, in a free society, one's beliefs should be shaped by his mind and his conscience, rather than coerced by the State."

Id. at 431 U. S. 234-235. By contrast, the statute challenged in this case requires no exaction from any individual; it does not "coerce" belief; and it does not require appellees to participate in political activities or support political views with which they disagree. It merely declines to extend additional food stamp assistance to striking individuals simply because the decision to strike inevitably leads to a decline in their income. And this Court has explicitly stated that, even where the Constitution prohibits coercive governmental interference with specific individual rights, it "does not confer an entitlement to such funds as may be necessary to realize all the advantages of that freedom.'" Regan, supra, at 461 U. S. 550, quoting Harris v. McRae,448 U. S. 297, 448 U. S. 318 (1980). [Footnote 7]

Page 485 U. S. 370

III

Because the statute challenged here has no substantial impact on any fundamental interest and does not "affect with particularity any protected class," Hodory, supra, at 431 U. S. 489, [Footnote 8] we confine our consideration to whether the statutory classification "is rationally related to a legitimate governmental interest." Department of Agriculture v. Moreno,413 U. S. 528, 413 U. S. 533 (1973). We have stressed that this standard of review is typically quite deferential; legislative classifications are "presumed to be valid," Massachusetts Board of Retirement v. Murgia,427 U. S. 307, 427 U. S. 314 (1976), largely for the reason that "the drawing of lines that create distinctions is peculiarly a legislative task and an unavoidable one." Ibid.; see Dandridge v. Williams,397 U. S. 471, 397 U. S. 485 (1970).

Appellant submits that this statute serves three objectives. Most obvious, given its source in OBRA, is to cut federal expenditures. Second, the limited funds available

Page 485 U. S. 371

were to be used when the need was likely to be greatest, an approach which Congress thought did not justify food stamps for strikers. Third was the concern that the food stamp program was being used to provide one-sided support for labor strikes; the Senate Report indicated that the amendment was intended to remove the basis for that perception and criticism. S.Rep. at 62.

We have little trouble in concluding that § 109 is rationally related to the legitimate governmental objective of avoiding undue favoritism to one side or the other in private labor disputes. The Senate Report declared:

"Public policy demands an end to the food stamp subsidization of all strikers who become eligible for the program solely through the temporary loss of income during a strike. Union strike funds should be responsible for providing support and benefits to strikers during labor-management disputes."

Ibid. It was no part of the purposes of the Food Stamp Act to establish a program that would serve as a weapon in labor disputes; the Act was passed to alleviate hunger and malnutrition and to strengthen the agricultural economy. 7 U.S.C. § 2011. The Senate Report stated that "allowing strikers to be eligible for food stamps has damaged the program's public integrity," and thus endangers these other goals served by the program. S.Rep. at 62. Congress acted in response to these problems.

It would be difficult to deny that this statute works at least some discrimination against strikers and their households. For the duration of the strike, those households cannot increase their allotment of food stamps, even though the loss of income occasioned by the strike may well be enough to qualify them for food stamps or to increase their allotment if the fact of the strike itself were ignored. Yet Congress was in a difficult position when it sought to address the problems it had identified. Because a striking individual faces an immediate and often total drop in income during a strike, a single controversy pitting an employer against its employees can

Page 485 U. S. 372

lead to a large number of claims for food stamps for as long as the controversy endures. It is the disbursement of food stamps in response to such a controversy that constitutes the source of the concern, and of the dangers to the program, that Congress believed it was important to remedy. We are not free in this instance to reject Congress' views about "what constitutes wise economic or social policy." Dandridge, supra, at 397 U. S. 486.

It is true that in terms of the scope and extent of their ineligibility for food stamps, § 109 is harder on strikers than on "voluntary quitters." [Footnote 9] See 648 F.Supp. at 1253-1254 (Appendix A); compare 7 CFR § 273.1(g) (1987) with id. § 273.7(n). But the concern about neutrality in labor disputes does not arise with respect to those who, for one reason or another, simply quit their jobs. As we have stated in a related context, even if the statute "provides only rough justice,' its treatment . . . is far from irrational." Hodory, 431 U.S. at 431 U. S. 491. Congress need not draw a statutory classification to the satisfaction of the most sharp-eyed observers in order to meet the limitations that the Constitution imposes in this setting. And we are not authorized to ignore Congress' considered efforts to avoid favoritism in labor disputes, which are evidenced also by the two significant provisos contained in the statute. The first proviso preserves eligibility for the program of any household that was eligible to receive stamps "immediately prior to such strike." 7 U.S.C. § 2015(d)(3). The second proviso makes clear that the statutory ineligibility for food stamps does not apply

"to any household that does not contain a member on strike, if any of its members refuses to accept employment at a plant or site because of a strike or lockout."

Ibid. In light of all this, the statute is

Page 485 U. S. 373

rationally related to the stated objective of maintaining neutrality in private labor disputes.

In view of the foregoing, we need not determine whether either of the other two proffered justifications for § 109 would alone suffice. But it is relevant to note that protecting the fiscal integrity of Government programs, and of the Government as a whole, "is a legitimate concern of the State." Hodory, supra, at 431 U. S. 493. This does not mean that Congress can pursue the objective of saving money by discriminating against individuals or groups. But our review of distinctions that Congress draws in order to make allocations from a finite pool of resources must be deferential, for the discretion about how best to spend money to improve the general welfare is lodged in Congress, rather than the courts. Bowen v. Owens,476 U. S. 340, 476 U. S. 345 (1986). "Fiscal considerations may compel certain difficult choices in order to improve the protection afforded to the entire benefited class." Harris v McRae, 448 U.S. at 448 U. S. 355 (STEVENS, J., dissenting). In OBRA, Congress had already found it necessary to restrict eligibility in the food stamp program and to reduce the amount of deductions that were allowed to recipients. Rather than undertaking further budget cuts in these or other areas, and in order to avoid favoritism in labor disputes, Congress judged that it would do better to pass this statute along with its provisos. The Constitution does not permit us to disturb that judgment in this case.

Appellees contend, and the District Court held, that the legislative classification is irrational because of the "critical" fact that it "impermissibly strikes at the striker through his family." 648 F.Supp. at 1240. This, however, is nothing more than a description of how the food stamp program operates as a general matter, a fact that was acknowledged by the District Court. Ibid. Whenever an individual takes any action that hampers his or her ability to meet the program's eligibility requirements, such as quitting a job or failing to comply with the work-registration requirements, the entire household

Page 485 U. S. 374

suffers accordingly. We have never questioned the constitutionality of the entire Act on this basis, and we just recently upheld the validity of the Act's definition of "household" even though that definition embodies the basic fact that the Act determines benefits "on a household,' rather than an individual basis." Lyng, 477 U.S. at 477 U. S. 636. That aspect of the program does not violate the Constitution any more so today.

The decision of the District Court is therefore

Reversed.

JUSTICE KENNEDY took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

[Footnote 1]

Included were such fundamental changes as redefining the requirements to constitute a family unit, reducing the gross income eligibility standard (except for the elderly and the disabled), and adjusting the levels of deductions that are allowed to recipients. §§ 101, 104(a), 105, 106, 115. The Committee Reports estimated that these changes in the food stamp program would save several billion dollars in fiscal years 1982, 1983, and 1984. H.R.Rep. No. 97-158, pp. 11-13 (1981) (hereafter H.R.Rep.); S.Rep. No. 97-139, pp. 52-70 (1981) (hereafter S.Rep.).

[Footnote 2]

"Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a household shall not participate in the food stamp program at any time that any member of the household, not exempt from the work registration requirements . . . is on strike as defined in section 142(2) of title 29, because of a labor dispute (other than a lockout) as defined in section 152(9) of title 29: Provided, That a household shall not lose its eligibility to participate in the food stamp program as a result of one of its members going on strike if the household was eligible for food stamps immediately prior to such strike, however, such household shall not receive an increased allotment as the result of a decrease in the income of the striking member or members of the household: Provided further, That such ineligibility shall not apply to any household that does not contain a member on strike, if any of its members refuses to accept employment at a plant or site because of a strike or lockout."

OBRA, § 109, 96 Stat. 361, 7 U.S.C. § 2015(d)(3).

[Footnote 3]

The District Court did not find that any individuals had left their households in order to increase their allotment of food stamps. It found instead only that some individuals

"have been told by state agencies or have learned that they can avoid household disqualification by having the striker leave the household."

648 F.Supp. 1234, 1237 (DC 1986). Appellees note that one striker's spouse and children left the household after he was denied food stamps, and that the couple was subsequently divorced. Affidavit of Mark Dyer,

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