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Vance v. Bradley

Supreme Court of the United States

November 27, 1978, Argued ; February 22, 1979, Decided

No. 77-1254


 [*94]   [***174]   [**941]  MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

 The issue presented is whether Congress violates the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause 2  [***175]  by requiring retirement at age 60 of federal employees  [*95]  covered by the Foreign Service retirement and disability system but not those covered by the Civil Service retirement and disability system.  A three-judge District Court was convened to hear this challenge to the constitutionality of a federal statute by appellees, a group of former and present participants in the Foreign Service retirement system. Treating the case as submitted on cross motions  [**942]  for summary judgment, the District Court examined the affidavits and allegations presented by both sides, held the distinction invalid, and gave judgment for appellees. 436 F.Supp. 134 (DC 1977). 3 We noted probable jurisdiction, 436 U.S. 903 (1978), and now [****5]  reverse.

 [****6]  I

 The statutory provision under attack, ] § 632 of the Foreign Service Act of 1946, 60 Stat. 1015, as amended, 22 U. S. C. § 1002, mandates the retirement at age 60 of participants in the Foreign Service retirement system. 4 That system originally  [*96]  covered only Foreign Service officers in the State Department, but it has been expanded to include Foreign Service Reserve officers with unlimited tenure, 5 career Foreign Service Staff officers and employees, 6 [****7]  Foreign Service Information officers and career staff in the International Communication Agency, 7 and certain employees of the Agency for International Development. 8 Unlike these employees, personnel covered by the Civil Service retirement system presently face no mandatory retirement age 9 and, when this suit was brought, were not required to retire until age 70. 10

 Appellees have not suggested that the statutory distinction between Foreign Service personnel over age 60 and other federal employees over that age 11 [****9]  burdens a  [***176]  suspect group or  [*97]  a fundamental interest; and in cases where these considerations are absent, courts are quite reluctant to overturn governmental action on the ground that it denies equal protection of the laws. 12 The Constitution presumes that, absent some reason to infer antipathy, even improvident decisions will eventually be rectified by the democratic process 13 and that  [**943]  judicial intervention is generally unwarranted no matter how unwisely we may think a political branch has acted. Thus, ] we will not overturn such a statute unless the varying treatment of different groups or persons is so unrelated to the achievement of any combination of [****8]  legitimate purposes that we can only conclude that the legislature's actions were irrational. The District Court and the parties are in agreement that whether § 632 violates equal protection should be determined under the standard stated in Massachusetts Board of Retirement v. Murgia, 427 U.S. 307 (1976), and similar cases; and thus that the section is valid if it is "rationally related to furthering a legitimate state interest." Id., at 312.

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440 U.S. 93 *; 99 S. Ct. 939 **; 59 L. Ed. 2d 171 ***; 1979 U.S. LEXIS 60 ****; 19 Fair Empl. Prac. Cas. (BNA) 1; 19 Fair Empl. Prac. Cas. (BNA) 2; 18 Empl. Prac. Dec. (CCH) P8915



Disposition:  436 F.Supp. 134, reversed.


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Labor & Employment Law, Age Discrimination, Defenses, Bona Fide Benefit Plans, Pensions & Benefits Law, Governmental Employees, US Civil Service Retirement System, Benefit Entitlements, Governments, Federal Government, Employees & Officials, State Pensions, Constitutional Law, Equal Protection, Judicial Review, Standards of Review, Police Pensions, International Trade Law, International Commerce & Trade, Exports & Imports, General Overview