Goldberg v. Kelly

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397 U.S. 254 (1970), argued 13 Oct. 1969, decided 23 Mar. 1970 by vote of 6 to 3; Brennan for the Court; Black, Burger, Stewart in dissent. The procedure in New York City for the termination of welfare payments required seven-day notice and gave the welfare recipient the right to submit a written statement of protest. It did not, however, afford an evidentiary hearing before termination of benefits. The Court held that procedural due process under the Fourteenth Amendment required that welfare recipients be afforded an evidentiary hearing before termination of benefits.

The right to submit only a written statement, or affording a posttermination evidentiary hearing, did not meet requirements of due process. The pretermination hearing need not be, however, in the nature of a judicial or quasi-judicial trial. But the recipient must be afforded an opportunity to confront and cross-examine witnesses, to retain an attorney if so desired, and to present oral evidence to an impartial decision maker, whose conclusion must rest solely on legal rules and evidence adduced at the hearing.

While the state has an interest in conserving fiscal and administrative resources, this interest is outweighed by the interest of the recipient in uninterrupted receipt of public assistance, which is not mere charity but a means to promote the general welfare. The governmental interests that prompt the provision of welfare prompt as well its uninterrupted provision to those eligible to receive it. Welfare benefits, the Court said, “are a matter of statutory entitlement for persons qualified to receive them” (p. 262). The Court thus injected the concept of “entitlement” into the concept of property right protected by the Due Process Clause.

Milton R. Konvitz

Subjects: Law.

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