Law School Case Brief
King v. Smith - 392 U.S. 309, 88 S. Ct. 2128 (1968)
The category singled out for welfare assistance by the Federal Government’s Aid to Families With Dependent Children program is the “dependent child,” who is defined in § 406 of the Social Security Act, 49 Stat. 629, as amended, 42 U.S.C.S. § 606(a), as an age-qualified needy child who has been deprived of parental support or care by reason of the death, continued absence from the home, or physical or mental incapacity of a parent, and who is living with any one of several listed relatives. Under this provision, and, insofar as relevant here, aid can be granted only if “a parent” of the needy child is continually absent from the home. Alabama considers a man who qualifies as a “substitute father” under its regulation to be a nonabsent parent within the federal statute. The State therefore denies aid to an otherwise eligible needy child on the basis that his substitute parent is not absent from the home.
The Department of Pensions and Security of Alabam, a state participating in the Federal Government’s Aid to Families With Dependent Children Program (AFDC), issued a so-called “substitute father” regulation, which denied AFDC payments to children of a mother who “cohabited” in or outside her home with any single or married man. The present class action, instituted in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, sought declaratory and injunctive relief against enforcement of this regulation. A three-judge District Court granted relief, finding the regulation to be inconsistent with the Social Security Act and the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Was Alabama's “substitute father” regulation invalid for being inconsistent with the Social Security Act and the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?
The Court held that the “substitute father” regulation, which denied the federal government's Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) payments to children of a mother who "co-habited" in or outside her home with any single or married able-bodied man, was invalid because it conflicted with the AFDC provisions of the Social Security Act and federal policy both insofar as it was based on the state's asserted interest in discouraging illicit sexual behavior and illegitimacy, and insofar as it defined the term "father" as including a person who did not owe to the child a state-imposed legal duty of support. The Court averred that Congress intended that children in such a situation remain eligible for AFDC assistance notwithstanding their mother's impropriety. AFDC was intended to provide economic security for children whom Congress could not reasonably expect would be provided for simply by securing employment for family breadwinners. Congress meant by the term "parent" in 42 U.S.C.S. § 606(a) an individual who owed to the child a state-imposed legal duty of support. In denying AFDC assistance to appellees on the basis of the invalid regulation, Alabama breached its federally imposed obligation to furnish aid to families with dependent children. Destitute children who were legally fatherless could not be flatly denied federally funded assistance on the transparent fiction that they had a substitute father.
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