Department of Agriculture v. Moreno

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Department of Agriculture v. Moreno
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued April 23, 1973
Decided June 25, 1973
Full case name United States Department of Agriculture, et al. v. Moreno, et al.
Citations 413 U.S. 528 (more)
93 S. Ct. 2821; 37 L. Ed. 2d 782; 1973 U.S. LEXIS 33
Prior history 345 F.Supp. 310.
The "unrelated person" provision was irrelevant to the stated purpose of the Food Stamp Act and violated the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Brennan, joined by Douglas, Stewart, White, Marshall, Blackmun, Powell
Concurrence Douglas
Dissent Rehnquist, joined by Burger
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. V; Food Stamp Act (7 USCS 2012(e))

Department of Agriculture v. Moreno, 413 U.S. 528 (1973), was a United States Supreme Court case that declared a provision of the Food Stamp Act denying food stamps to households of "unrelated persons" to be a violation of the U.S. Constitution. The Court held that provision to be irrelevant to the stated purpose of the statute and in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.


The case was brought by several groups of individuals; they alleged that they satisfied the income eligibility requirements for federal food assistance, but they were excluded from the program solely because the persons in each group were not all related to one another.

Eligibility for participation in the federal food stamp program was based on households rather than individuals. Under Section 3(e) of the Food Stamp Act (7 USC 2012(e)), the term "household" was defined to include only groups whose members were all related to one another.

The plaintiffs were members of groups of needy individuals who were denied food stamps because the groups included members who were not all related to one another. For example, one plaintiff, a 56-year-old diabetic woman, lived with, shared common living expenses with, and received medical care from another woman with three children, each woman receiving a small monthly income from public assistance. Another plaintiff, an indigent married woman with three children, took in a 20-year-old girl, who was unrelated to them, because they felt that she had emotional problems. Another plaintiff, whose daughter had an acute hearing deficiency and required special instruction in a school for the deaf, decided that to make the most of her limited resources, she would share an apartment near the school with another woman, each woman being a recipient of public assistance.

Procedural history[edit]

In a class action in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, the plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief against the enforcement of the unrelated person provision of 3(e).

A three-judge District Court was convened and held that 3(e) violated the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment because it created a classification that achieved apparently unintended results and was not relevant to the stated purpose of the Act or justifiable by reference to an independent purpose (345 F Supp 310). The US District Court for the District of Columbia held that the "related household" limitation of §3 of the Food Stamp Act of 1964, 7 U.S.C.S. § 2012(e), was invalid as violative of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment as it created an irrational classification, in violation of the equal protection component of that clause.


Majority opinion[edit]

In an opinion by Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., the Supreme Court affirmed the lower courts' ruling that the statutory classification was invalid.

The Court held that the "unrelated person" provision was irrelevant to the stated purpose of the Food Stamp Act, and because it did not operate to rationally further the prevention of fraud so was not rationally related to furthering any legitimate government interest. The classification acted to exclude not only those who were likely to abuse the program but also those who were in need of the aid but could not afford to alter their living arrangements so as to retain their eligibility.

While the Fifth Amendment contains no equal protection clause, it forbids discrimination that is so unjustifiable as to be violative of due process. That doctrine is commonly referred to as "reverse incorporation," as it is essentially the opposite of "incorporation", or the application of parts of the Bill of Rights (otherwise applicable only to the Federal government) to the states via the Fourteenth Amendment.

Under traditional equal protection analysis, a legislative classification must be sustained if the classification itself is rationally related to a legitimate governmental interest. However, the Court held that the challenged classification, which excludes unrelated households, did not rationally further the goal of preventing fraud.

Concurring opinion[edit]

Justice William O. Douglas wrote a concurring opinion. He believed that since the unrelated-person provision of Section 3(e) affected people's First Amendment rights of association, the classification could be sustained only on a showing of compelling governmental interests. He did not believe that the standard was satisfied.

In addition, Section 3(e) was unconstitutional because of its invidious discrimination between one class composed of needy people, all related to one another, and another class composed of households that have one or more persons unrelated to the others but with the same degree of need.

Dissenting opinion[edit]

Justice William H. Rehnquist dissented from the Court's decision. In an opinion joined by Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, he believed the limitation that Congress enacted in Section 3(e) could, in the judgment of reasonable men, conceivably deny food stamps to members of households formed solely for the purpose of taking advantage of the food stamp program.

Since the food stamp program was not intended to be a subsidy for every individual who desired low-cost food, it was a permissible congressional decision l, consistent with the underlying policy of the Act. The fact that the limitation would have unfortunate, perhaps unintended, consequences beyond that did not make it unconstitutional.

See also[edit]


  • Department of Agriculture v. Moreno, 413 U.S. 528 (1973)

External links[edit]

  • Text of Department of Agriculture v. Moreno, 413 U.S. 528 (1973) is available from:  Findlaw  Justia