This case presents the question of the constitutionality under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the New Jersey "Assistance to Families of the Working Poor" program, N. J. Stat. Ann. § 44:13-1 et seq., that allegedly discriminates against illegitimate children in the provision of financial assistance and other services. Specifically, appellants challenge that aspect of the program that limits benefits to only those otherwise qualified families "which consist of a household composed of two adults of the opposite sex ceremonially married to each other who have at least one minor child . . . of both, the natural child of one and adopted by the other, or a child adopted by both . . . ." N. J. Stat. Ann. § 44:13-3 (a). Appellants do not challenge the statute's "household" requirement. Rather, they argue that although the challenged classification turns upon the marital status of the parents as well as upon the parent-child relationship, in practical effect it operates almost invariably to deny benefits to illegitimate children while granting benefits to those children who
Confronted with similar arguments in the past, we have specifically declared that:
Thus, in Weber we held that under the Equal Protection Clause a State may not exclude illegitimate children from sharing equally with other children in the recovery of workmen's compensation benefits for the death of their parent. Similarly, in Levy v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 68 (1968), we held that a State may not create a right
Those decisions compel the conclusion that appellants' claim of the denial of equal protection must be sustained, for there can be no doubt that the benefits extended under the challenged program are as indispensable to the health and well-being of illegitimate children as to those who are legitimate. Accordingly, we grant the motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis, reverse the judgment of the District Court, and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
THE CHIEF JUSTICE concurs in the result.
MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST, dissenting.
The New Jersey Legislature has enacted a statute entitled "Assistance to Families of the Working Poor," which is designed to provide grants to supplement the income of a discrete class of families with children when independent sources of income are inadequate to support the family unit. The program is completely financed by the State, and therefore need not conform to any of the strictures of the Social Security Act. The New Jersey program for assistance to the working poor does not provide financial grants to classes of children as such, as is the case under various federal plans. Instead, it provides grants to classes of families as units. The Court
The Court relies on Weber v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co., 406 U.S. 164 (1972), where a Louisiana statute that denied workmen's compensation benefits to an illegitimate child was invalidated. But the very language that the Court quotes from Weber shows how different this case is from that. There a disability was visited solely on an illegitimate child. Here the statute distinguishes among types of families. While the classification adopted by the New Jersey Legislature undoubtedly results in denying benefits to "families" consisting of a mother and father not ceremonially married who are living with natural children, whatever denial of benefits the classification makes is imposed equally on the parents as well as the children.
Here the New Jersey Legislature has determined that special financial assistance should be given to family units that meet the statutory definition of "working poor." It does not seem to me irrational in establishing such a special program to condition the receipt of such grants on the sort of ceremonial marriage that could quite reasonably be found to be an essential ingredient of the family unit that the New Jersey Legislature is trying to protect from dissolution due to the economic vicissitudes of modern life. The Constitution does not require that special financial assistance designed by the legislature to help poor families be extended to "communes" as well.
In the area of economics and social welfare the Equal Protection Clause does not prohibit a State from taking one step at a time in attempting to overcome a social ill, provided only that the classifications made by
I would affirm the judgment of the District Court.