Tag Archives: SCOTUS

Welfare as a Property Right

Thomas Ross, professor of law at the University of Pittsburg, writes this in the June 1991 edition of the Georgetown Law Journal (.79 Geo. L.J. 1499). Hat Tip: Shawn Borich.

From the late 1950s through the early 1970s the Court decided cases that, both in result and in rhetoric, expressed a new respect for the poor. Justice William Brennan, writing for the majority in Goldberg v. Kelly, expressed this new vision of the constitutional status of poverty.

From its founding the Nation’s basic commitment has been to foster the dignity and well-being of all persons within its borders. We have come to recognize that forces not within the control of the poor contribute to their poverty. . . . Welfare, by meeting the basic demands of subsistence, can help bring within the reach of the poor the same opportunities that are available to others to participate meaningfully in the life of the community. . . . Public assistance, then, is not mere charity, but a means to “promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and to our Posterity.”

Thus, the Court held in Goldberg that welfare benefits were a form of constitutionally protected “property” and could not be terminated without notice and the opportunity for a hearing. The Court’s decisions during this period that broke down some of the disparities in effective access to the courts on both criminal and civil matters are further evidence of the Warren Court’s new respect for the poor.

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