Right to Travel: A Virtually Unconditional Personal Right

Highlighted the travel portion of this case in yellow below. This case discusses three aspects of the right to ravel under the US Constitution. 

Description: Saenz v. Roe, 526 US 489 - Supreme Court 1999 526 U.S. 489 (1999) SAENZ, DIRECTOR, CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES, et al.v. ROE et al., on BEHALF OF THEMSELVES AND ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED No. 98-97.

United States Supreme Court.
492*492 Justice Stevens, delivered the opinion of the Court. In 1992, California enacted a statute limiting the maximum welfare benefits available to newly arrived residents. The scheme limits the amount payable to a family that has resided in the State for less than 12 months to the amount payable by the State of the family's prior residence. The questions presented by this case are whether the 1992 statute was constitutional when it was enacted and, if not, whether an amendment to the Social Security Act enacted by Congress in 1996 affects that determination.

I California is not only one of the largest, most populated, and most beautiful States in the Nation; it is also one of the most generous. Like all other States, California has participated in several welfare programs authorized by the Social Security Act and partially funded by the Federal Government. Its programs, however, provide a higher level of benefits and serve more needy citizens than those of most other States. In one year the most expensive of those programs, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), which was replaced in 1996 with Temporary Assistance to 493*493 Needy Families (TANF), provided benefits for an average of 2,645,814 persons per month at an annual cost to the State of $2.9 billion. In California the cash benefit for a family of two—a mother and one child—is $456 a month, but in the neighboring State of Arizona, for example, it is only $275.

In 1992, in order to make a relatively modest reduction in its vast welfare budget, the California Legislature enacted § 11450.03 of the state Welfare and Institutions Code. That section sought to change the California AFDC program by limiting new residents, for the first year they live in California, to the benefits they would have received in the State of their prior residence.

[1] Because in 1992 a state program either had to conform to federal specifications or receive a waiver from
the Secretary of Health and Human Services in order to qualify for federal reimbursement, § 11450.03 required approval by the Secretary to take effect. In October 1992, the Secretary issued a waiver purporting to grant such approval.

On December 21, 1992, three California residents who were eligible for AFDC benefits filed an action in the Eastern District of California challenging the constitutionality 494*494 of the durational residency requirement in § 11450.03. Each plaintiff alleged that she had recently moved to California to live with relatives in order to escape abusive family circumstances. One returned to California after living in Louisiana for seven years, the second had been living in Oklahoma for six weeks and the third came from Colorado. Each alleged that her monthly AFDC grant for the ensuing 12 months would be substantially lower under §11450.03 than if the statute were not in effect. Thus, the former residents of Louisiana and Oklahoma would receive $190 and $341 respectively for a family of three even though the full California grant was $641; the former resident of Colorado, who had just one child, was limited to $280 a month as opposed to the full California grant of $504 for a family of two.

The District Court issued a temporary restraining order and, after a hearing, preliminarily enjoined implementation of the statute. District Judge Levi found that the statute "produces substantial disparities in benefit levels and makes no accommodation for the different costs of living that exist in different states."

[2] Relying primarily on our decisions in http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=6690948768913204766&q=%22rights+privileges+and+immunities%22&hl=en&as_sdt=4,60 Shapiro v. Thompson, 394 U. S. 618 (1969), and http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=12605442536558130412&q=%22rights+privileges+and+immunities%22&hl=en&as_sdt=4,60 Zobel v. Williams, 457 U. S. 55 (1982), he concluded that the statute placed "a penalty on the decision of new residents to migrate to the State and be treated on an equal basis with existing residents."

Green v. Anderson, 811 F. Supp. 516, 521 (ED Cal.1993). In his view, if the purpose of the measure was to
deter migration by poor people into the State, it would be unconstitutional for that reason. And even if the purpose was only to conserve limited funds, the State had failed to explain why the entire burden of the saving should be imposed on new residents. The Court of Appeals summarily 495*495 affirmed for the reasons stated by the District Judge.

Green v. Anderson, 26 F. 3d 95 (CA9 1994).
We granted the State's petition for certiorari. 513 U. S. 922 (1994). We were, however, unable to reach the merits because the Secretary's approval of § 11450.03 had been invalidated in a separate proceeding,

[3] and the State had acknowledged that the Act would not be implemented without further action by the Secretary. We vacated the judgment and directed that the case be dismissed.

Anderson v. Green, 513 U. S. 557 (1995) (per curiam).

[4] Accordingly, § 11450.03 remained inoperative until after Congress enacted the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA), 110 Stat. 2105.

PRWORA replaced the AFDC program with TANF. The new statute expressly authorizes any State that receives a block grant under TANF to "apply to a family the rules (including benefit amounts) of the [TANF] program . . . of another State if the family has moved to the State from the other State and has resided in the State for less than 12 months."110 Stat. 2124, 42 U. S. C. § 604(c) (1994 ed., Supp. II). With this federal statutory provision in effect, California no longer needed specific approval from the Secretary to mplement § 11450.03. The California Department of Social Services therefore issued an "All County Letter" announcing that the enforcement of § 11450.03 would commence on April 1, 1997.

The All County Letter clarifies certain aspects of the statute. Even if members of an eligible family had lived in California all of their lives, but left the State "on January 29th, intending to reside in another state, and returned on April 15th," their benefits are determined by the law of their State of residence from January 29 to April 15, assuming 496*496 that that level was lower than California's.

[5] Moreover, the lower level of benefits applies regardless of whether the family was on welfare in the State
of prior residence and regardless of the family's motive for moving to California. The instructions also explain that the residency requirement is inapplicable to families that recently arrived from another country.


On April 1, 1997, the two respondents filed this action in the Eastern District of California making essentially the same claims asserted by the plaintiffs in http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=464036243184633

Anderson v. Green,

[6] but also challenging the constitutionality of PRWORA's approval of the durational residency requirement. 
As in 

Green, the District Court issued a temporary restraining order and certified the case as a class action.http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=472101750599098

[7] The court also advised the Attorney General of the United States that the constitutionality of a federal statute had been drawn into question, but she did not seek to intervene or to file an amicus brief. Reasoning that PRWORA permitted, but did not require, States to impose durational residency requirements, Judge Levi concluded that the existence of the federal statute did not affect the legal analysis in his prior opinion in http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=171630860216163

He did, however, make certain additional comments on the parties' factual contentions. He noted that the State did not challenge plaintiffs' evidence indicating that, although 497*497 California benefit levels were the sixth highest in the Nation in absolute terms,

[8] when housing costs are factored in, they rank 18th; that new residents coming from 43 States would face higher costs of living in California; and that welfare benefit levels actually have little, if any, impact on the residential choices made by poor people. On the other hand, he noted that the availability of other programs such as homeless assistance and an additional food stamp allowance of $1 in stamps for every $3 in reduced welfare benefits partially offset the disparity between the benefits for new and old residents. Notwithstanding those ameliorating facts, the State did not disagree with plaintiffs' contention that 11450.03 would create significant disparities between newcomers and welfare recipients who have resided in the State for over one year.

The State relied squarely on the undisputed fact that the statute would save some $10.9 million in annual welfare costs—an amount that is surely significant even though only a relatively small part of its annual expenditures of approximately $2.9 billion for the entire program. It contended that this cost saving was an appropriate exercise of budgetary authority as long as the residency requirement did not penalize the right to travel. The State reasoned that the payment of the same benefits that would have been received in the State of prior residency eliminated any potentially punitive aspects of the measure. Judge Levi concluded, however, that the relevant comparison was not between new residents of California and the residents of their former States, but rather between the new residents and longer term residents of California. He therefore again enjoined the implementation of the statute.

Without finally deciding the merits, the Court of Appeals affirmed his issuance of a preliminary injunction.

Roe v. Anderson, 134 F. 3d 1400 (CA9 1998). It agreed with the 498*498 District Court's view that the passage of PRWORA did not affect the constitutional analysis, that respondents had established a probability of success on the merits, and that class members might suffer irreparable harm if §11450.03 became operative. Although the decision of the Court of Appeals is consistent with the views of other frederal courts that have addressed the issue,

[9] we granted certiorari because of the importance of the case.
Anderson v. Roe, 524 U. S. 982 (1998).

[10] We now affirm.


The word "travel" is not found in the text of the Constitution. Yet the "constitutional right to travel from one State to another" is firmly embedded in our jurisprudence.

United States v. Guest, 383 U. S. 745, 757 (1966).
Indeed, as Justice Stewart reminded us in

Shapiro v. Thompson, 394 U. S. 618 (1969), the right is so important that it is "assertable against private interference as well as governmental action . . . a virtually unconditional personal right, guaranteed by the Constitution to us all." Id., at 643 (concurring opinion).

499*499 In 

Shapiro, we reviewed the constitutionality of three statutory provisions that denied welfare assistance to residents of Connecticut, the District of Columbia, and Pennsylvania, who had resided within those respective
jurisdictions less than one year immediately preceding their applications for assistance. Without pausing to identify the specific source of the right, we began by noting that the Court had long "recognized that the nature of our Federal Union and our constitutional concepts of personal liberty unite to require that all citizens be free to travel throughout the length and breadth of our land uninhibited by statutes, rules, or regulations which unreasonably burden or restrict this movement." Id., at 629. We squarely held that it was "constitutionally impermissible" for a State to enact durational residency requirements for the purpose of inhibiting the migration by needy persons into the State.

[11] We further held that a classification that had the effect of imposing a penalty on the exercise of the right to travel violated the Equal Protection Clause "unless shown to be necessary to promote a compelling governmental interest," id., at 634, and that no such showing had been made.

In this case California argues that § 11450.03 was not enacted for the impermissible purpose of inhibiting migration by needy persons and that, unlike the legislation reviewed in

Shapiro, it does not penalize the right to travel because new arrivals are not ineligible for benefits during their first year of residence. California submits that, instead 500*500 of being subjected to the strictest scrutiny, the statute should be upheld if it is supported by a rational basis and that the State's legitimate interest in saving over $10 million a year satisfies that test. Although the United States did not elect to participate in the proceedings in the District Court or the Court of Appeals, it has participated as amicus curiae in this Court. It has advanced the novel argument that the enactment of PRWORA allows the States to adopt a "specialized choice-of-law-type provision" that "should be subject to an intermediate level of constitutional review," merely requiring that durational residency requirements be "substantially related to an important governmental objective."

[12] The debate about the appropriate standard of review, together with the potential relevance of the federal
statute, persuades us that it will be useful to focus on the source of the constitutional right on which respondents rely.


The "right to travel" discussed in our cases embraces at least three different components. It protects the right of a citizen of one State to enter and to leave another State, the right to be treated as a welcome visitor rather than an unfriendly alien when temporarily present in the second State, and, for those travelers who elect to become permanent residents, the right to be treated like other citizens of that State.

It was the right to go from one place to another, including the right to cross state borders while en route, that was vindicated in

Edwards v. California, 314 U. S. 160 (1941), which invalidated a state law that impeded the free interstate
passage of the indigent. We reaffirmed that right in

United States v. Guest, 383 U. S. 745 (1966), which afforded protection to the "`right to travel freely to and
from the State of Georgia and to use highway facilities and other 501*501 instrumentalities of interstate commerce within the State of Georgia.' " Id., at 757. Given that §11450.03 imposed no obstacle to respondents' entry into California, we think the State is correct when it argues that the statute does not directly impair the exercise of the right to free interstate movement. For the purposes of this case, therefore, we need not identify the source of that particular right in the text of the Constitution. The right of "free ingress and regress to and from" neighboring States, which was expressly mentioned in the text of the Articles of Confederation, 

[13] may simply have been "conceived from the beginning to be a necessary concomitant of the stronger Union the Constitution created." Id., at 758.

The second component of the right to travel is, however, expressly protected by the text of the Constitution. The first sentence of Article IV, § 2, provides:

"The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States." Thus, by virtue of a person's state citizenship, a citizen of one State who travels in other States, intending to return home at the end of his journey, is entitled to enjoy the "Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States" that he visits.

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