Saenz v. Roe,
526 U.S. 489 (1999)

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No. 98-97. Argued January 13, 1999-Decided May 17, 1999

California, which has the sixth highest welfare benefit levels in the country, sought to amend its Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program in 1992 by limiting new residents, for the first year they live in the State, to the benefits they would have received in the State of their prior residence. Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code Ann. § 11450.03. Although the Secretary of Health and Human Services approved the change-a requirement for it to go into effect-the Federal District Court enjoined its implementation, finding that, under Shapiro v. Thompson, 394 U. S. 618, and Zobel v. Williams, 457 U. S. 55, it penalized "the decision of new residents to migrate to [California] and be treated [equally] with existing residents," Green v. Anderson, 811 F. Supp. 516, 521. After the Ninth Circuit invalidated the Secretary's approval of § 11450.03 in a separate proceeding, this Court ordered Green to be dismissed. The provision thus remained inoperative until after Congress enacted the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA), which replaced AFDC with Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). PRWORA expressly authorizes any State receiving a TANF grant to pay the benefit amount of another State's TANF program to residents who have lived in the State for less than 12 months. Since the Secretary no longer needed to approve § 11450.03, California announced that enforcement would begin on April 1, 1997. On that date, respondents filed this class action, challenging the constitutionality of § 11450.03's durational residency requirement and PRWORA's approval of that requirement. In issuing a preliminary injunction, the District Court found that PRWORA's existence did not affect its analysis in Green. Without reaching the merits, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the injunction.


1. Section 11450.03 violates § 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment.




(a) In assessing laws denying welfare benefits to newly arrived residents, this Court held in Shapiro that a State cannot enact durational residency requirements in order to inhibit the migration of needy persons into the State, and that a classification that has the effect of imposing a penalty on the right to travel violates the Equal Protection Clause absent a compelling governmental interest. Pp. 498-500.

(b) The right to travel embraces three different components: the right to enter and leave another State; the right to be treated as a welcome visitor while temporarily present in another State; and, for those travelers who elect to become permanent residents, the right to be treated like other citizens of that State. Pp. 500-502.

(c) The right of newly arrived citizens to the same privileges and immunities enjoyed by other citizens of their new State-the third aspect of the right to travel-is at issue here. That right is protected by the new arrival's status as both a state citizen and a United States citizen, and it is plainly identified in the Fourteenth Amendment's Privileges or Immunities Clause, see Slaughter-House Cases, 16 Wall. 36, 80. That newly arrived citizens have both state and federal capacities adds special force to their claim that they have the same rights as others who share their citizenship. Pp. 502-504.

(d) Since the right to travel embraces a citizen's right to be treated equally in her new State of residence, a discriminatory classification is itself a penalty. California's classifications are defined entirely by the period of residency and the location of the disfavored class members' prior residences. Within the category of new residents, those who lived in another country or in a State that had higher benefits than California are treated like lifetime residents; and within the broad subcategory of new arrivals who are treated less favorably, there are 45 smaller classes whose benefit levels are determined by the law of their former States. California's legitimate interest in saving money does not justify this discriminatory scheme. The Fourteenth Amendment's Citizenship Clause expressly equates citizenship with residence, Zobel, 457 U. S., at 69, and does not tolerate a hierarchy of subclasses of similarly situated citizens based on the location of their prior residences. Pp.504-507.

2. PRWORA's approval of durational residency requirements does not resuscitate § 11450.03. This Court has consistently held that Congress may not authorize the States to violate the Fourteenth Amendment. Moreover, the protection afforded to a citizen by that Amendment's Citizenship Clause limits the powers of the National Government as well as the States. Congress' Article I powers to legislate are limited not only by the scope of the Framers' affirmative delegation, but also by the principle that the powers may not be exercised in a way that violates

Full Text of Opinion

Primary Holding

The right to travel prevents states from imposing durational residency requirements that withhold the privileges and immunities of a state's citizens from people who have newly arrived in that state. Strict scrutiny and strict liability apply.


California required that people who had newly arrived in the state could not receive a greater amount of welfare benefits during their first year of residence than the amount that they had received in the state where they had lived before. Saenz and other California welfare recipients in this position argued that this law violated their right to travel, and they succeeded in the trial court. Soon afterward, Congress gave states the authority to apply the welfare benefits rules of another state if the benefits recipients had spent less than 12 months in the new state. Once this Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 had been passed, the state of California appealed the judgment in favor of Saenz. It argued that rational basis review was appropriate for a constitutional challenge to its welfare benefits law and that it had a legitimate interest in saving over $10 million of its funds per year.



  • John Paul Stevens (Author)
  • Sandra Day O'Connor
  • Antonin Scalia
  • Anthony M. Kennedy
  • David H. Souter
  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg
  • Stephen G. Breyer

This type of law implicates the right to travel, which is one of the fundamental rights protected by the Constitution. As a result, strict scrutiny rather than rational basis or intermediate scrutiny is the appropriate level of review. As established by the Slaughter-House Cases (1872), the textual source for the right to travel may be found in the Privileges and Immunities Clause, which ensures that new citizens of a state have the same privileges and immunities as long-standing citizens of the state. All of the citizens of the United States are protected under this clause through their federal citizenship, and states must establish a compelling interest to justify restricting the right to travel. They also must show that they have chosen a narrowly tailored means to achieve that interest.

The California law is a penalty based on a discriminatory distinction between new and long-standing citizens. There appears to be no compelling interest that justifies it, since it is unclear that people move to this state to take advantage of its generous welfare benefits.


  • William Hubbs Rehnquist (Author)
  • Clarence Thomas

The Privileges or Immunities Clause should be discarded as a valid textual basis for any fundamental right. It has been used only once before in the history of the Court, and that decision was subsequently overruled. Rational basis is the appropriate standard of review, and this law meets its requirements.


  • Clarence Thomas (Author)
  • William Hubbs Rehnquist

The drafters of the Fourteenth Amendment would not have attached this meaning to the Privileges or Immunities Clause. It was not intended to embrace all public benefits otherwise established by state laws.

Case Commentary

The Privileges and Immunities Clause has very little practical significance, and the right to travel is perhaps the only significant right that is held to arise from this provision rather than the Equal Protection or Due Process Clauses.

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