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Graham v. Richardson - 403 U.S. 365, 91 S. Ct. 1848 (1971)

Rule:

A State retains broad discretion to classify as long as its classification has a reasonable basis. But the United States Supreme Court's decisions have established that classifications based on alienage, like those based on nationality or race, are inherently suspect and subject to close judicial scrutiny. Accordingly, the power of a state to apply its laws exclusively to its alien inhabitants as a class is confined within narrow limits. 

Facts:

 Appellants, the States of Arizona and Pennsylvania, had statutes which conditioned welfare benefits either upon the beneficiary's possession of United States citizenship or, if the beneficiary was an alien, upon his having resided in this country for a specified number of years. Appellees, Richardson et al. were aliens denied benefits under these statutes and they instituted actions against their states. The district courts found that the statutes violated the Equal Protection Clause of U.S. Const. amend. XIV. Appellants sought review. 

Issue:

Were the statutes which conditioned welfare benefits either upon the beneficiary's possession of United States citizenship or, if the beneficiary was an alien, upon his having resided in this country for a specified number of years violative of the Equal Protection Clause?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Court found that classifications based on alien status were inherently suspect and subject to close judicial scrutiny. A state statute that denied welfare benefits to resident aliens, and one that denied them to aliens who had not resided in the United States for a specified number of years, violated the Equal Protection Clause. Appellants' desires to preserve limited welfare benefits for its own citizens were inadequate to justify appellants making noncitizens ineligible for public assistance and restricting benefits to citizens and longtime resident aliens.

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