Category Archives: aid

Traynor v. Turnage

485 U. S. 535

April 20, 1988

The GI bill helped veterans go to school for 10 years after honorable discharge. This 10 year period could be extended if they missed school due to disabilities not caused by “willful misconduct.” Two veterans were denied this extension when their alcoholism was ruled “willful misconduct.” They sued under the Rehabilitation Act, which denied any discrimination against the handicapped. There was a standing challenge because normally determination about veterans benefits did not get judicial review.

The Court unanimously found standing, since the dispute was over the Rehabilitation Act, and not veterans administration itself. Then the Court held 4-3 that the extension could be denied for alcoholism (Scalia and Kennedy did not participate). White said the same Congress that passed the Rehabilitation Act also intimated that it was fine with alcoholism being deemed “willful misconduct.” White concluded that there was no discrimination against the handicapped – just those who had committed misconduct. In light of the ambiguity about the Rehabilitation Act’s reach, and alcoholism’s status as a ‘disease,’ the Court had no trouble deferring to the veteran’s administration.

Blackmun, joined by Brennan and Marshall, dissented. He told sob stories about the veterans getting into drinking as little children, and how they had no choice in the development of their addiction. Blackmun also cited literature showing how hard it is to beat alcoholism. He thought they deserved to at least argue that they had committed no “willful misconduct,” and that the Rehabilitation Act gave them that right. Legislative history showed that the Rehabilitation Act was intended to cover alcoholism, and the Congressional acquiescence to the “willful misconduct” standard wasn’t entirely explicit.

This is a very interesting case about accountability. Is it fair to hold a full grown man accountable for a habit he developed at age 8? Maybe no, but this is also a case about entitlements. These men were given 10 whole years of free government assistance, and they still demanded more! Government aid is a generous privilege, not some natural right, and I do get tired of Brennan and friends pretending otherwise so often.


Gardebring v. Jenkins

485 U. S. 415

April 19, 1988

A new rule for welfare recipients said that welfare payments would be temporarily suspended if the recipients received a large lump sum of money from another source. The Jenkins family was unaware of this rule, and when it got a large Social Security payout, it spent the money all at once, not realize that they wouldn’t get regular welfare payments again for several months afterward. The Jenkins family claimed that a regulation required the government to give them much better notice of the new lump sum rule.

The Court ruled 5-3 that the regulation had not been violated (Kennedy did not participate). Looking closely at the regulation’s language and structure, Stevens said it only mandated that new applicants for welfare be apprised of the general terms and conditions of the program. It did not mandate that continuing recipients be informed of every significant rule change. Also compelling to Stevens was that the Secretary running the welfare program did not interpret the regulation to require the extra notice. While the result was harsh for the Jenkins family, there just wasn’t enough evidence to second guess the Secretary’s reading of the regulation.

O’Connor wrote a dissent joined by Brennan in full, and by Marshall in its conclusion. She felt that the Secretary had agreed to a broader reading of the regulation in an interrogatory, and was now changing his mind about interpretation. Because this broader reading required more notice, and because the regulation was ambiguous, O’Connor wanted to hold the Secretary to this earlier interpretation. Despite this conclusion, she disagreed with the lower court’s demand that the Secretary make truly herculean and exhaustive efforts to give notice to every recipient. She thought a more limited effort was sufficient (this is probably the part that Marshall disagreed with).

Lyng v. Automobile Workers

485 U. S. 360

March 23, 1988

The famous 1981 omnibus budget denied strikers the privilege of receiving food stamps. Predictably, unions were outraged, and tried to get this declared unconstitutional. They argued that it violated the associative and expressive rights of strikers, along with the Equal Protection clause.

The Supreme Court smacked down the unions 5-3 (Kennedy did not participate). White pointed out that food stamps were a privilege, and that the government is not required to fund every exercise of associative or expressive rights. Furthermore, it was pretty unlikely that anyone would decide against joining a union or living in a household just because of the food stamp issue. The government had not done any affirmative harm against unions or strikers – it had merely withdrawn a financial privilege. Finally, White said there was plenty rational basis for singling out strikers. In particular, it made the government more neutral in labor disputes, because strikers could hold out much longer if they were getting tax subsidized food stamps indefinitely.

Marshall, joined by Brennan and Blakmun, threw a babyish temper tantrum and called it a ‘dissent.’ He could not find a single rational basis for the law. Saving federal money was not good enough, because you could save federal money by discriminating against a protected class. Wanting to allocate money to those actually out of work was not good enough either, because those who strike are still in need of food. Finally, neutrality in labor disputes was not good enough, because company officials who oppose strikers could still get food stamps during a strike. Then, Marshall argued the law was simply a measure geared toward discouraging and ending strikes, and punishing those who chose to strike. You might think that this would constitute a pretty solid rational basis for the law, but in Marshall’s eyes, such an “animus” toward strikers was hateful and bigoted, and thus irrational.

Marshall is dead wrong. Strikes are evil, and emphatically do deserve to be squelched. And those who strike emphatically do deserve to suffer consequences for it. The last thing strikers deserve is having their evil rewarded by government money. Here’s a few Bible verses on the subject:

1 Peter 2:18: Submit with all fear to your masters, not only to the good and gentle but also to the cruel.

2 Thessalonians 3:10: This is what we commanded you: “If anyone isn’t willing to work, he should not eat.”

1 Timothy 5:8: But if anyone does not provide for his own, that is his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

There you have it. Once again, Brennan, Marshall, and Blackmun are those who “call evil good and good evil.” Sadly, it won’t be the last time.

Lukhard v. Reed

481 U. S. 368

April 22, 1987

A federal program (AFDC) provided financial assistance to needy families, and allowed individual states to set many of the standards governing when families would get that assistance. In setting those standards, the states had to consider a family’s “income” and “resources.” Virginia said that a personal injury award would count as “income.” Whether such a classification was valid under federal statutes and regulations was the issue posed by this case.

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that Virginia’s classification of injury awards as income was permissible. Scalia wrote for the plurality, and began by pointing out that income can easily be interpreted to mean ‘any monetary gain.’ While other federal programs to help the needy did not treat injury awards as income, the HHS Secretary, who was responsible for overseeing the AFDC, seemed to approve of such an expansive definition of the word. Scalia also rejected the claim that personal injury awards, since they compensated for lost well-being, should be more properly classified as a “resource.” He found that physical well-being itself was not a resource within the AFDC’s contemplation.

Blackmun concurred in judgment. He felt the interpretation of the HHS should be given deference, and did not see the need to reach any other arguments. Powell, joined by Brennan, Marshall, and O’Connor, dissented. Citing a bunch of tax cases and rules, he made a good argument that income should not be understood to cover injury awards. He also stressed that injury awards are primarily intended to restore, not to provide monetary gain. In practice, he concluded, the majority’s rule had a verifiable harsh effect on hard up families.

Based on the Chevron deference that Blackmun found so critical, I have to say that the majority’s position was legally stronger. Nonetheless, this is one of those cases where concern for compassion and substantive justice should perhaps have outweighed the need to follow the Chevron rule. I only say this because Powell’s dissent is quite legally persuasive in several respects. Were the law clear, compassion could have no role, but in an especially close case, I can’t say its wrong for those sorts of considerations to tip the scales.