Graham v. Department of Pub. Welfare,
403 U.S. 365 (1971)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Graham v. Department of Pub. Welfare, 403 U.S. 365 (1971)

Graham v. Department of Pub. Welfare

No. 609

Argued March 22, 1971

Decided June 14, 1971*

403 U.S. 365


State statutes, like the Arizona and Pennsylvania statutes here involved, that deny welfare benefits to resident aliens or to aliens who have not resided in the United States for a specified number of years are violative of the Equal Protection Clause and encroach upon the exclusive federal power over the entrance and residence of aliens; and there is no authorization for Arizona's 15-year durational residency requirement in § 1402(b) of the Social Security Act. Pp. 403 U. S. 370-383.

313 F.Supp. 34 and 321 F.Supp. 250, affirmed.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BLACK, DOUGLAS, BRENNAN, STEWART, WHITE, and MARSHALL, JJ., joined. HARLAN, J., filed a statement joining in the judgment and in Parts III and IV of the Court's opinion, post, p. 403 U. S. 383.

Page 403 U. S. 366

Primary Holding

Resident non-citizens have access to rights under the Equal Protection Clause, and a state law that discriminates against them must be justified by a compelling state interest to be valid.


Richardson, a non-citizen who had lived in the U.S. for 13 years, was prevented from receiving welfare benefits by an Arizona law. It limited benefits to U.S. citizens and to non-citizens who had lived in the U.S. for 15 years. Meanwhile, a non-citizen in Pennsylvania named Mary Leger was denied welfare benefits under a law that restricted them to U.S. citizens. Both Richardson and Leger went to court to pursue these benefits after they had been denied, and both prevailed in the lower courts. Their cases were consolidated for appeal.



  • Harry Andrew Blackmun (Author)
  • Warren Earl Burger
  • Hugo Lafayette Black
  • William Orville Douglas
  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr.
  • Potter Stewart
  • Byron Raymond White
  • Thurgood Marshall

Discrimination against foreign nationals in the area of welfare benefits does not implicate any compelling state interest. There is not even any legitimate state interest in withholding benefits in order to preserve them for its own citizens, since foreign nationals also contribute to state revenues.


  • John Marshall Harlan II (Author)

Case Commentary

Although the case was decided under the equal protection doctrine, the Court appeared to incorporate elements of pre-emption analysis into its reasoning. The opinion suggested that the law was invalid in part because it conflicted with long-standing federal dominance over regulations of non-citizens and immigration.

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