Jefferson v. Hackney (1972)

Although not overruling earlier cases, Jefferson seems to eliminate the possibility that reducing the size of the welfare rolls and denying otherwise eligible persons assistance is a relevant factor in determining the validity of a procedure.

Citation: 406 U.S. 535 (1972)
Date decided: May 30, 1972
Longer case name: Ruth J. JEFFERSON et al., Appellants, v. Burton G. HACKNEY, Commissioner of Public Welfare, et al.
Law type: Civil
Jurisdiction level:Federal
State of origin: Texas
Topic(s):Equal protection and Public assistance
Lists:Important cases
Attorneys:Steven J. Cole (Center for Social Welfare Policy and Law) argued the cause for appellants. With him on the briefs were Henry A. Freedman, Ed J. Polk (Bexar County Legal Aid), Edward V. Sparer, and Carl Rachlin.
Others involved:Solicitor General Griswold, by invitation of the Court, filed a memorandum for the United States as amicus curiae. Marie A. Failinger, “A Tragedy of Two Americas: Jefferson v. Hackney”, in “The Poverty Law Canon: Exploring the Major Cases”, edited by Failinger & Rosser, University of Michigan Press, 2016: “It was a Wednesday in early 1969, and lawyers at the OEO-­ funded Bexar County Legal Aid offices were worried. Frank Christian, head of the Legal Aid office, had just received a phone call that the San Antonio welfare rights organization was starting a sleep-­ in at the local welfare office on Santa Rosa Avenue, protesting the state’s July 1968 decision to cut their Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) benefits. Christian, a blue-­blooded San Antonian hailing from Alamo Heights, had a strong reputation and city connections that were a boon to the low-­income people he worked with. The Alazan-Apache Homes Welfare Rights Organization, headed by a peppery and outspoken mother, Jo Ann Gutierrez, was out in force; it had been trained by the National Welfare Rights Organization for just such a protest. The new Guadalupe Street OEO office, opened in a crime-­ridden area of East San Antonio, had been working with Gutierrez because, under Texas law, she was receiving the family maximum and couldn’t receive additional AFDC benefits for her last child. Although the office was young, by the time of the protest, lawyers at San Antonio’s OEO were already involved in filing class action lawsuits.”
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Case Importance

The court found that Texas does not violate equal protection by applying a percentage reduction factor to arrive at a reduced standard of need for recipients of AFDC public assistance program. One major effect of the Jefferson decision was that approximately 2,500 Texas families were dropped from the welfare rolls. Marie A. Failinger, “A Tragedy of Two Americas Jefferson v. Hackney”, in “The Poverty Law Canon: Exploring the Major Cases”, edited by Failinger & Rosser, University of Michigan Press, 2016: “The story of Jefferson v. Hackney is a microcosm of this period in history . It recounts the efforts of Texas welfare rights recipients to demand an income necessary for dignified existence as well as the right to be recognized as participants in their own destiny. It recalls the optimism and realism with which poverty lawyers and advocates approached their work. Yet it also reflects the way the problems of race and class in America not only intertwine but struggle against each other for recognition, and it serves as a cautionary tale about the grave social consequences of ‘two Americas,’ one rich and one poor, one white and one minority.”

Case Details

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



Appellants, recipients of Aid to Families With Dependent Children (AFDC), challenge the system whereby Texas, in order to allocate its fixed pool of welfare money among persons with acknowledged need, applies a percentage reduction factor to arrive at a reduced standard of need, the factor being lower for AFDC than for other categorical assistance programs. Appellants assert that the State’s method of applying this factor to recipients with outside income contravenes § 402(a)(23) of the Social Security Act, which required adjustment, by July 1, 1969, of ‘amounts used . . . to determine the needs of individuals’ to reflect increases in living costs, because this method does not increase the welfare roles to the same extent as would an alternative procedure used by some other States. They also make an equal protection claim on the grounds that the distinction between the aid programs is not rational and that the Texas system racially discriminates against the proportionately larger number of minority groups in AFDC than in the other programs. Held:

1. The Texas scheme does not contravene § 402(a)(23) of the Social Security Act, which does not require use of a computation procedure that maximizes individual eligibility for subsidiary benefits. Pp. 539—545.

2. The challenged system does not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 545—551.

(a) The fact that there are more members of minority groups in the AFDC program than in other categories does not indicate racial discrimination, absent any proof of racial motivation in the Texas scheme. There was no such proof here. Pp. 547—549.

(b) Texas’ decision to provide somewhat lower welfare benefits for AFDC recipients than for the aged and infirm who are in other categories is not invidious or irrational, and there is no constitutional or statutory requirement that relief categories be treated exactly alike. Pp. 549—551.


Last modified: 2022-12-27 12:50
Case internal grade: A | Case internal status: OK |
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