397 US 254 (1970)
John Kelly was the leader of a group of people who were receiving benefits through either the federal program Families with Dependant Children, or a New York State monetary housing assistance programs. Before John Kelly’s suit, it was commonplace for the State of New York to discontinue aid to citizens without any benefit of appeal or closer examination. Many of these citizens attempted to recover benefits, only to find a grueling appeals process that was not based on evidence, examination, or cross-examination. Kelly represented a large line of people who had not received notice before losing their aid. When John Kelly made it a Constitutional issue, and it was accepted as a case into the Supreme Court, the State of New York then tried to implement a hearing process.
John Kelly then decided to challenge the rights of both the State and Federal Government to discontinue aid without any kind of hearing. Kelly challenged the right of both institutions to discontinue aid without an adequate hearing, calling it a violation of the due process rights afforded under the 5th, and particularly the 14th Amendments to the Constitution. After Kelly challenged the policy, the State implemented a hearing program to address the issue, however Kelly still had standing. Unsatisfactory and biased hearings were allowed, with little examination of evidence, and no possibility of an adversarial hearing.
The Legal Question:
Do the States, as well as the Federal Government, have the right to terminate publicly funded aid without first offering the right to an adequate hearing or adequate notice, without violating the Due Process clause so outlined in both the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments?
Yes, this policy of termination without an adequate hearing does infringe upon a persons’ right to due process. Justice Brennan wrote the majority opinion, joined by Harlan, White, Marshall, as well Douglas in the opinion, with Justice Burger writing a dissenting opinion, which was joined by Justice Black. Justice Stewart wrote his own dissenting opinion.
The appellant argued that it would expend way too many resources better appropriated in other places. In addition, they attempted to make the issue mute by establishing a program for hearings during the process of the case as a whole.
The dissenting opinion written by Justice Burger and joined by Justice Black looked at the welfare system as a whole, and analyzed the argument of entitlement versus privilege with regards to government sponsored aid. They found these institutions to be privileges given to citizens by the government.
Although this was clearly a case that made it to the Supreme Court on the basis of due process, it ended up being the majority opinion that left far-reaching implications indeed. First, with regards to due process that was central to this issue, this argument only held weight with the Court due to a Statutory interpretation of the public aid system as a whole, as well as an implication with regards to State’s Rights’ versus Federalism.
Due to the fact that government aid programs are statutory in nature, the Court rejected the dissenting opinion that they were products of entitlement. Because they are indeed statutory, this made the appellant’s case. The Court went so far as to call the newly implemented system of New York unsatisfactory. In this case, due process means due process, and a fair hearing, seen from a statutory perspective, should afford all the rights as any other statutory-based procedure.
The Court also stated in the majority opinion that the State’s need for funding in other places was invalid and unsatisfactory. In weighing the “need” or right to due process of the recipients against government interest, the State moved for Summary Judgment, which was ultimately denied. The majority opinion ultimately concluded that the welfare of citizens, and preserving the right to procedural due process specifically, greatly outweighed the State’s cost to administer such proceedings.
In addition, they added to their opinion of the newly implemented hearing program in New York State as insufficient. The full rights, said the majority, included within procedural due process seen in the 14th Amendment was simply not present. The hearings did not afford recipients of the program opportunity to present evidence, retain oral argument, or cross-examine.
One major issue that was not heavily weighed in this case was the age-old problem of Federalism versus States Rights’. The opinion of the court applied to all states, and therefore established a heavily Federalist overtone. Interestingly enough, in the subsequent years of this case, Federalism would continue to be upheld by the stretching of Congress’ “necessary and proper” clause, as well as the “commerce” clause. It is not too far fetched at all to conclude that this case, clearly decided on Federalist grounds subversively, was a precursor to future Supreme Court decisions, such as its upholding of the CSA.