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WEINBERGER V. WIESENFELD, 420 U. S. 636 (1975)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld, 420 U.S. 636 (1975)

Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld

No. 73-1892

Argued January 20, 1975

Decided March 19, 1975

420 U.S. 636


The gender-based distinction mandated by the provisions of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 402(g), that grant survivors' benefits based on the earnings of a deceased husband and father covered by the Act both to his widow and to the couple's minor children in her care, but that grant benefits based on the earnings of a covered deceased wife and mother only to the minor children and not to the widower, violates the right to equal protection secured by the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, since it unjustifiably discriminates against female wage earners required to pay social security taxes by affording them less protection for their survivors than is provided for male wage earners. Pp. 420 U. S. 642-653.

(a) The distinction is based on an "archaic and overbroad" generalization not tolerated under the Constitution, namely, that male workers' earnings are vital to their families' support, while female workers' earnings do not significantly contribute to families' support. Frontiero v. Richardson, 411 U. S. 677. Pp. 420 U. S. 642-643.

(b) That social security benefits are "noncontractual," and do not compensate for work performed or necessarily correlate with contributions to the program, cannot sanction the solely gender-based differential protection for covered employees. Since the benefits depend significantly upon a covered employee's participation in the workforce, and since only covered employees and not others are required to pay taxes toward the system, benefits must be distributed according to classifications that do not differentiate among covered employees solely on the basis of sex. Pp. 420 U. S. 646-647.

(c) Since, as is apparent from the statutory scheme itself and from § 402(g)'s legislative history, § 402(g)'s purpose in providing benefits to young widows with children was not, as the Government contends, to provide an income to women who, because of economic discrimination, were unable to provide for themselves, but to permit women to elect not to work and to devote themselves to care of children (and thus was not premised upon chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 420 U. S. 637

any special disadvantage of women), it cannot serve to justify a gender-based distinction diminishing the protection afforded women who do work. Pp. 648-652.

367 F.Supp. 981, affirmed.

BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and STEWART, WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and POWELL, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed a concurring opinion in which BURGER, C.J.,joined, post, p. 420 U. S. 654. REHNQUIST, J., filed an opinion concurring in the result, post, p. 420 U. S. 655. DOUGLAS, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

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