Goldberg v. Kelly (1970)

The Due Process Clause provides the right to a full hearing before welfare benefits are terminated.

Citation: 397 U.S. 254 (1970)
Date decided: Mar 23, 1970
Longer case name: Goldberg v. Kelly
Law type: Civil
Jurisdiction level:Federal
State of origin: New York
Topic(s):Due process and Public assistance
Lists:Important cases and zGreatest hits (future)
Attorneys:Lee A. Albert (Center for Social Welfare Policy and Law) argued the cause for appellees. With him on the brief were Robert Borsody, Martin Garbus, and David Diamond (Mobilization for Youth Legal Services).
Others involved:A brief of amicus curiae was filed by Victor G. Rosenblum and Daniel Wm. Fessler for the National Institute for Education in Law and Poverty.
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Case Importance

Perhaps the greatest victory. Led to the due process revolution. Goldberg required the government to follow due process when seeking to terminate benefits. Melanie B. Abbott, “Dignity and Passion Goldberg v. Kelly” in “The Poverty Law Canon: Exploring the Major Cases”, edited by Failinger & Rosser, University of Michigan Press, 2016: “The barriers confronting Kelly and his fellow plaintiffs were in no way unique; the plaintiffs represented hundreds, even thousands of others who had fought similar battles simply to survive in the city. A snapshot of the welfare picture in 1967–­ 68 reveals that the city’s welfare rolls were increasing at the rate of 14,000 people per month in early 1968.”

Case Details

(The syllabus is not part of the opinion, but is a summary prepared by the court reporter as a convenience.)

John Kelly, acting on behalf of New York residents receiving financial assistance either under the federally-assisted program for Families with Dependent Children or under New York State’s home relief program, challenged the constitutionality of procedures for notice and termination of such aid. The State of New York implemented a hearing procedure after commencement of Kelly’s litigation.


Appellees are New York City residents receiving financial aid under the federally assisted Aid to Families with Dependent Children program or under New York State’s general Home Relief program who allege that officials administering these programs terminated, or were about to terminate, such aid without prior notice and hearing, thereby denying them due process of law. The District Court held that only a pre-termination evidentiary hearing would satisfy the constitutional command, and rejected the argument of the welfare officials that the combination of the existing post-termination “fair hearing” and informal pre-termination review was sufficient.

1. Welfare benefits are a matter of statutory entitlement for persons qualified to receive them, and procedural due process is applicable to their termination. Pp. 397 U. S. 261-263.

2. The interest of the eligible recipient in the uninterrupted receipt of public assistance, which provides him with essential food, clothing, housing, and medical care, coupled with the State’s interest that his payments not be erroneously terminated, clearly outweighs the State’s competing concern to prevent any increase in its fiscal and administrative burdens. Pp. 397 U. S. 264-266.

3. A pre-termination evidentiary hearing is necessary to provide the welfare recipient with procedural due process. Pp. 397 U. S. 264, 397 U. S. 266-271.

(a) Such hearing need not take the form of a judicial or quasi-judicial trial, but the recipient must be provided with timely and adequate notice detailing the reasons for termination, and an effective opportunity to defend by confronting adverse witnesses and by presenting his own arguments and evidence orally before the decisionmaker. Pp. 397 U. S. 266-270.

(b) Counsel need not be furnished at the pre-termination hearing, but the recipient must be allowed to retain an attorney if he so desires. P. 397 U. S. 270.

(c) The decisionmaker need not file a full opinion or make formal findings of fact or conclusions of law, but should state the reason for his determination and indicate the evidence he relied on. P. 397 U. S. 271.

(d) The decisionmaker must be impartial, and, although prior involvement in some aspects of a case will not necessarily bar a welfare official from acting as decisionmaker, he should not have participated in making the determination under review. P. 397 U. S. 271.

294 F. Supp. 893, affirmed.

Last modified: 2022-12-27 12:49
Case internal grade: A | Case internal status: OK |
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