Helvering v. Davis

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Helvering v. Davis
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued May 5, 1937
Decided May 24, 1937
Full case name Guy T. Helvering, Commissioner of Internal Revenue v. Davis
Citations 301 U.S. 619 (more)
The proceeds of both the employee and employer taxes are to be paid into the Treasury like any other internal revenue generally, and are not earmarked in any way. The Social Security Act of 1935 does not contravene the Tenth Amendment, as Congress is permitted to spend for the general welfare.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Charles E. Hughes
Associate Justices
Willis Van Devanter · James C. McReynolds
Louis Brandeis · George Sutherland
Pierce Butler · Harlan F. Stone
Owen J. Roberts · Benjamin N. Cardozo
Case opinions
Majority Cardozo, joined by Hughes, Brandeis, Stone, Sutherland, Van Devanter, and Roberts
Dissent McReynolds, joined by Butler
Laws applied
U.S. Const. Art. I § 8, amend. X; Social Security Act of 1935

Helvering v. Davis, 301 U.S. 619 (1937), was a decision by the United States Supreme Court, which held that Social Security was constitutionally permissible as an exercise of the federal power to spend for the general welfare, and did not contravene the 10th Amendment. The Court's 7-2 decision defended the constitutionality of the Social Security Act of 1935, requiring only that welfare spending be for the common benefit as distinguished from some mere local purpose. It affirmed a District Court decree that held that the tax upon employees was not properly at issue, and that the tax upon employers was constitutional.


A shareholder of the Edison Electric Illuminating Company brought a derivative action to restrain the company from making payments and deductions required by the Social Security Act 1935 on the ground that it was unconstitutional. He sought an injunction, and a declaration that the Act was void.


The Opinion of the Supreme Court in the case was written by Justice Benjamin N. Cardozo. This decision supported the right of the Congress to interpret the "general welfare" clause in the U.S. Constitution.

Joining the decision was Justice Harlan Stone, who during the drafting of the legislation had advised Secretary Frances Perkins that the constitutionality of Social Security could be based upon "The taxing power of the Federal Government, my dear; the taxing power is sufficient for everything you want and need."[4]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Levy, Robert A.; Mellor, William H. (2008). "Promoting the General Welfare". The Dirty Dozen: How Twelve Supreme Court Cases Radically Expanded Government and Eroded Freedom. New York: Sentinel. pp. 19–36. ISBN 978-1-59523-050-8. 


  1. ^ Hiring and Separation Methods in American Industry, 35 Monthly Labor Review, pp. 1005, 1009.
  2. ^ Economic Insecurity in Old Age (Social Security Board, 1937), p. 15.
  3. ^ The Senate Committee estimated, when investigating the present act, that over one half of the people in the United States over 65 years of age are dependent upon others for support. Senate Report No. 628, 74th Congress, 1st Session, p. 4. A similar estimate was made in the Report to the President of the Committee on Economic Security, 1935, p. 24. A Report of the Pennsylvania Commission on Old Age Pensions made in 1919 (p. 108) after a study of 16,281 persons and interviews with more than 3,500 persons 65 years and over showed two fifths with no income but wages and one fourth supported by children; 1.5 percent had savings and 11.8 percent had property. A report on old age pensions by the Massachusetts Commission on Pensions (Senate No. 5, 1925, pp. 41, 52) showed that, in 1924, two thirds of those above 65 had, alone or with a spouse, less than $5,000 of property, and one fourth had none. Two thirds of those with less than $5,000 and income of less than $1,000 were dependent in whole or in part on others for support. A report of the New York State Commission made in 1930 (Legis.Doc. No. 67, 1930, p. 39) showed a condition of total dependency as to 58 percent of those 65 and over, and 62 percent of those 70 and over. The national Government has found in connection with grants to states for old age assistance under another title of the Social Security Act (Title I) that, in February, 1937, 38.8 percent of all persons over 65 in Colorado received public assistance; in Oklahoma, the percentage was 44.1, and in Texas 37.5. In 10 states out of 40 with plans approved by the Social Security Board, more than 25 percent of those over 65 could meet the residence requirements and qualify under a means test and were actually receiving public aid. Economic Insecurity in Old Age, supra, p. 15.
  4. ^ https://www.socialsecurity.gov/history/tea.htm