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

Author:Evan H. Caminker

Page 2305

In Saenz v. Roe, the Supreme Court reinvigorated the constitutional RIGHT TO TRAVEL. California, concerned about becoming a "welfare magnet" because its generous WELFARE BENEFITS might entice indigent persons to immigrate from less-generous states, limited the maximum payment to a recipient during his or her first twelve months of residency to the amount he or she would have received in the prior state of residency. Congress expressly authorized states to discriminate between older and newer residents in this manner. The Court held 7?2, however, that the state statute violated the right to travel and that Congress could not authorize such a violation.

The Court had previously invalidated several state statutes discriminating between older and newer residents, but had failed to articulate a consistent constitutional theory or level of judicial scrutiny. In SHAPIRO V. THOMPSON (1969), the Court invalidated a state statute withholding all welfare from immigrants during their first year of state residency. The Court held that this welfare denial constituted a "penalty" on immigrants' right to travel to the state, and the statute could not survive STRICT SCRUTINY. The Court employed the same analysis to invalidate statutes withholding for one year the franchise in DUNN V. BLUMSTEIN (1972) and free medical care in Memorial Hospital v. Maricopa County (1974). More recent cases, however, such as Zobel v. Williams (1982) and ATTORNEY GENERAL OF NEW YORK V. SOTOLÓPEZ (1986), produced no majority agreement on the level of scrutiny, with controlling factions subjecting residency distinctions merely to RATIONAL BASIS review under the EQUAL PROTECTION clause.

While many observers predicted that the Court in Saenz would retreat even further from Shapiro, the Court did precisely the opposite. The Court proclaimed that the "right to travel" embraces three different components: (1) the right of a citizen of one state to enter and to leave a second state, (2) the right to be treated as a welcome visitor rather than an unfriendly alien when temporarily visiting a second state, and (3) for those travelers who elect to become permanent residents of the second state, the right to be treated the same as other citizens of that state. This third component is grounded in both the CITIZENSHIP clause and the PRIVILEGES OR IMMUNITIES clause of the FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT, which together mean that "a citizen of the United States can, of his own volition, become...

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