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Supreme Court

in International Labour Law Reports Online


* @ West Publishing Co., 1988, all rights reserved.

* (Some footnotes are omitted; those included are not renumbered - Ed.) 1 Included were such fundamental changes as redefining the requirements to constitute a family unit, reducing the gross income eligibility standard (except for the elderly and the disabled), and adjusting the levels of deductions that are allowed to recipients. §§101, 104(a), 105, 106, 115. The Committee Reports estimated that these changes in the food stamp program would save several billion dollars in fiscal years 1982, 1983, and 1984. H.RRep. No. 97-158, pp. l I-13 (1981) (hereafter H.R.Rep.); S. Rep. No. 97—139, pp. 52—70 (1981) U.S.Code Cong. & Admin. News 1981, pp. 396, 442-460 (hereafter S.Rep.).. 2 "Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a household shall not participate in the food stamp program at any time that any member of the household, not exempt from the work registration requirements ... is on strike as defined in section 142(2) of title 29, because of a labor dispute (other than a lockout) as defined in section 152(9) of title 29: Provided, That a household shall not lose its eligibility to participate in the food stamp program as a result of one of its members going on strike if the household was eligible for food stamps immediately prior to such strike, however, such household shall not receive an increased allotment as the result of a decrease in the income of the striking member or members of the household: Provided further, That such ineligibility shall not apply to any household that does not contain a member on strike, if any of its members refuses to accept employment at a plant or site because of a strike or lockout" OBRA §109, 95 Stat. 361, 7 U.S.C. §2015(d)(3).

5 It is clear from previous decisions that associational rights "are protected not only against heavy-handed frontal attack, but also from being stifled by more subtle governmental interference," Bates v. Little Rock, 361 U.S. 516,523 ... (1960), and that these rights can be abridged even by government actions that do not directly restrict individuals' ability to associate freely. See, e.g., Healy v. James, 408 U.S. 169, 183 ... (1972). But none of these cases indicates that the statute challenged here "will affect in any significant way the existing members' ability to carry out their various purposes." Board of Directors of Rotary Int l v. Rotary Club ... The Court has found, for example, that compulsory disclosure of the membership lists of an organization, which led to harassment, physical threats, and economic reprisals against those individuals, worked "a substantial restraint upon the exercise by petitioner's members of their right to freedom of association." NAACP v. Alabama ex rel. Patterson, 357 U.S. 449, 462 ... (1958). We also have held that the First Amendment "restricts the ability of the State to impose liability on an individual solely because of his association with another" when the individual lacks the specific intent to further any illegal aims that may be promoted by other members of a group. NAACP v. Claibome Hardware Co., 458 U.S. 886, 9I9-920 ... (1982). The facts of this case, however, do not demonstrate any "significant" interference with appellees' associational rights of the magnitude found in decisions like Patterson and Claibome Hardware. Exposing the members of an association to physical and economic reprisals or to civil liability merely because of their membership in.that group poses a much greater danger to the exercise of associational freedoms than does the withdrawal of a government benefit based not on membership in an organization but merely for the duration of one activity that may be undertaken by that organization.

6 The decision in Hodory was based on the Equal Protection Clause and not on the First Amendment, but our application of rational-basis review to the constitutional claim raised in that case indicated that fundamental rights guaranteed by the First Amendment were not implicated there. ' Appellees rely heavily on Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398 ... (1963), in which we held that a state violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment when it denied unemployment benefits to a woman whose religious beliefs did not allow her to work on Saturday. That decision, however, "was decided in the significantly different context of a constitutionally inposed 'governmental obligation of neutrality' originating in the Establish- ment and Freedom of Religion Clauses of the First Amendment." Maher v. Roe, 432 U.S. 464, 475, n. 8 ... (1977). The reasoning of Sherbert has not been applied in other contexts, and is inapposite here as shown by our decision in Hodory, which found no fundamental rights to be infringed by a State's denial of unemployment benefits to a man who was unable to work as a result of a labor dispute.

M We reject the proposition that strikers as a class are entitled to special treatment under the Equal Protection Clause. City of Charlotte v. Firefighters, 426 U.S. 283, 286 ... (1976); Hodory ... Department of Agriculture v. Moreno ... , does not counsel otherwise. There we upheld an equal protection challenge to a provision of the Food Stamp Act and concluded that "a bare congressional desire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot constitute a legitimate governmental interest." Moreno, supra, at 534 ... (emphasis in original). This statement is merely an application of the usual rational-basis test: if a statute is not rationally related to any legitimate governmental objective, it cannot be saved from constitutional challenge by a defense that relates it to an illegitimate governmental interest. Accordingly, in Moreno itself we examined the challenged provision under the rational-basis standard of review ....

9 For example, one who voluntarily quits a job is disqualified for food stamps for 90 days. Thereafter, he is eligible as long as he registers for work and cannot find a job. 7 CFR §273.7(n)(l)(v) (1987). The striker, unless he quits his job, is disqualified for as long as he is on strike. §273.1(g).

' Because I conclude that the striker amendment fails the deferential rational basis test, I see no need to address whether stricter scrutiny should apply to protect the First Amendment interests asserted by appellees, although I am unconvinced by the Court's treatment of that issue as well.

2 In addition, there is substantial reason to question the invocation of the public fisc in this case. Statistics available to Congress at the time of the enactment of the striker amendment indicated that strikers rarely met the financial eligibility requirements of the food stamp program and thus rarely participated in the program. A Government Accounting Office study found that in four out of five periods studied, 89 to 96 percent of strikers did not participate in the food stamp program. In the fifth period, which included the 1978 coal strike, 64 percent of strikers did not participate. 127 Cong. Rec. S6137 (June 11, 1981) (remarks of Sen. Levin). The strikers who do participate in the food stamp program apparently account for only a very small percentage of total program outlays. Statistical information collected by the House Committee on Agriculture in 1975 indicated that households containing strikers accounted for only 0.2 to 0.3 percent of non public-assistance households participating in the food stamp program. H.R.Rep. No. 95-464, p. 128 (1977).

5 "Good cause" as defined in the applicable regulations includes, inter alia, "�d�iscrimina- tion by an employer based on age, race, sex, color, handicap, religious beliefs, national origin or political beliefs," 7 CFR §273.7(n)(3)(i) (1987), "Iwlork demands or conditions that render continued employment unreasonable, such as working without being paid on schedule," §273.7(n)(3)(ii), or work conditions under which "Itlhe degree of risk to health and safety is unreasonable," §273.7(i)(2)(i), incorporated by reference in §273.7(n)(3)(vi).

' In addition, strikers may not become eligible for food stamps even if they demonstrate their "willingness to work" by registering for and accepting alternative interim employment. Indeed, the fact that strikers had been subject to the same work registration and acceptance requirements as all other food stamp applicants prior to the enactment of the striker amend- ment casts considerable doubt on the Secretary's argument that the amendment's purpose was to ensure that food stamp recipients are "willing to work." Cf. Department of Agriculture v. Moreno ... (existence of fraud provisions prior to the amendment denying food stamps to households containing unrelated persons "necessarily casts considerable doubt upon the proposition that the 1971 amendment could rationally have been intended to prevent those very same abuses").

10 The remarks of representatives over the years admittedly express the views of different Congresses from the one that eventually passed the 1981 striker amendment. Nonetheless, the length of time over which the same proposal was considered and the frequent references over the years by representatives to former colloquies on the matter ... strongly suggest that these earlier discussions informed the 1981 decision.

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