naomichaney

Frontiero v. Richardson, 411 U.S. 677 (1973)

In Politics on 23/09/2009 at 8:39 PM

FACTS: Under federal law male members of the uniformed services automatically received an extra housing allowance and medical benefits if they were married. For a servicewoman to receive these additional benefits she must prove that she paid more than one half of her husbands living expenses. Sharron Frontiero could only prove that she paid three-sevenths her husband Joseph Frontiero’s living expenses. Because of this her application for benefits was denied, she filed suit in federal district court whom also denied her claim and she appealed directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.


ISSUE: Does this Federal Law which classifies uniformed service-members by gender for the distribution of benefits violate the equal protection section of the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause?

REASONING: Justice Brennan: Although the position of women in America has improved markedly in recent decades, throughout much of the 19th century the position of women in our society was, in many respects, comparable to that of blacks under the pre-civil War slave codes. Women, however, still face pervasive, although at times more subtle, discrimination.

Sex, like race and national origin, is an immutable characteristic; consequently, the imposition of special disabilities upon the members of a particular sex because of their sex would seem to violate the basic concept of our system that legal burdens should bear some relationship to individual responsibility. The sex characteristic frequently bears no relation to ability to perform or contribute to society. Statutory distinctions between the sexes often have the effect of invidiously relegating the entire class of females to inferior legal statute without regard to the actual capabilities of its individual members. Classifications based upon sex, like classifications based upon race, alienage, or national origin, are inherently suspect, and must therefore be subjected to strict judicial scrutiny. To this we agree and, indeed, find at least implicit support for such an approach in our unanimous decision only last term in Reed v. Reed, 404 U.S. 71(1971).

In Reed, the Court considered the constitutionality of an Idaho statute providing that when two individuals are otherwise equally entitled to appointment as an administrator of an estate the male applicant must be preferred to the female. The Court held this statutory preference for male applicants unconstitutional.

Congress’s requirement that female, but not male, military personnel must prove the dependency of their spouses to receive spousal benefits serves no purpose other than mere administrative convenience. The statutory scheme which draws a sharp line between the sexes, solely for the purpose of achieving administrative convenience, necessarily commands dissimilar treatment for men and women who are similarly situated and therefore involves the very kind of arbitrary legislative choice forbidden by the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment.

DECISION: Reversed

RULE: The federal law which classifies service-members by gender by gender for benefit distribution does violate the equal protection section of the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause.

CONCURRING: Justice Stewart: agreeing that the statutes before us work an invidious discrimination in violation of the Constitution. Reed v. Reed, 404 U.S. 71.

Justice Powell, with Chief Justice Burger and Justice Blackmun: The challenged statutes constitute an unconstitutional  discrimination against service women in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, but I cannot join in the opinion of MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN, which would hold that all classifications based on gender are “inherently suspect and must  therefore be subject to close judicial scrutiny.”

It is unnecessary for the Court in this case to characterize sex as a suspect classification, with all of the far-reaching implications of such a holding. Reed v. Reed, 404 U.S. 71(1971) which supports our opinion today, did not add sex to the limited group of classifications which are inherently suspect. In my opinion we can and should decide this case on the authority of Reed. Another reason for deferring a general categorizing of sex classifications as invoking the strictest test of judicial scrutiny is the impending Equal Rights Amendment; if this is adopted it will resolve the substance of this precise question.

NOTES AND COMMENTS: It was very satisfying to me, to see the Bradley opinion for the Bradwell case be used as an example of how ridiculously and atrociously the notion of paternalistic attitude affected our nation.  It was also very satisfying to see the trend towards equality being set in motion at the Supreme Court level, while this is not the first case in our history that sided with women being as deserving of the same rights and treatments as men it is the first brief I have done in this class that decided a case in a manner I am happy with.  While, I do wish that sex became a suspect classification at this point, and that the ERA would have been ratified I will surely take joy in knowing that our service-women have the same access to benefits for their husbands as service-men do their wives.

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