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United States Department of Agriculture v. Moreno/Dissent Rehnquist

Court Documents
Case Syllabus
Opinion of the Court
Concurring Opinion
Dissenting Opinion

Mr. Justice Rehnquist, with whom The Chief Justice concurs, dissenting.

For much the same reasons as those stated in my dissenting opinion in United States Department of Agriculture v. Murry, ante, p. 522, I am unable to agree with the Court's disposition of this case. Here appellees challenged a provision in the Federal Food Stamp Act, 7 U.S.C. § 2011 et seq., which limited food stamps to related people living in one "household." The result of this provision is that unrelated persons who live under the same roof and pool their resources may not obtain food stamps even though otherwise eligible.

The Court's opinion would make a very persuasive congressional committee report arguing against the adoption of the limitation in question. Undoubtedly, Congress attacked the problem with a rather blunt instrument and, just as undoubtedly, persuasive arguments may be made that what we conceive to be its purpose will not be significantly advanced by the enactment of the limitation. But questions such as this are for Congress, rather than for this Court; our role is limited to the determination of whether there is any rational basis on which Congress could decide that public funds made available under the food stamp program should not go to a household containing an individual who is unrelated to any other member of the household.

I do not believe that asserted congressional concern with the fraudulent use of food stamps is, when interpreted in the light most favorable to sustaining the limitation, quite as irrational as the Court seems to believe. A basic unit which Congress has chosen for determination of availability for food stamps is the "household," a determination which is not criticized by the Court. By the limitation here challenged, it has singled out households which contain unrelated persons and made such households ineligible. I do not think it is unreasonable for Congress to conclude that the basic unit which it was willing to support with federal funding through food stamps is some variation on the family as we know it--a household consisting of related individuals. This unit provides a guarantee which is not provided by households containing unrelated individuals that the household exists for some purpose other than to collect federal food stamps.

Admittedly, as the Court points out, the limitation will make ineligible many households which have not been formed for the purpose of collecting federal food stamps, and will at the same time not wholly deny food stamps to those households which may have been formed in large part to take advantage of the program. But, as the Court concedes, "traditional equal protection analysis does not require that every classification be drawn with precise 'mathematical nicety,'" ante, at 538. And earlier this Term, the constitutionality of a similarly "imprecise" rule promulgated pursuant to the Truth in Lending Act was challenged on grounds such as those urged by appellees here. In Mourning v. Family Publications Service, Inc., 411 U.S. 356 (1973), the imposition of the rule on all members of a defined class was sustained because it served to discourage evasion by a substantial portion of that class of disclosure mechanisms chosen by Congress for consumer protection.

The limitation which Congress enacted could, in the judgment of reasonable men, conceivably deny food stamps to members of households which have been formed solely for the purpose of taking advantage of the food stamp program. Since the food stamp program is not intended to be a subsidy for every individual who desires low-cost food, this was a permissible congressional decision quite consistent with the underlying policy of the Act. The fact that the limitation will have unfortunate and perhaps unintended consequences beyond this does not make it unconstitutional.


1 ^ . Section 3 (e) of the Food Stamp Act provides in relevant part:

"The term 'household' shall mean a group of related individuals (including legally adopted children and legally assigned foster children) or non-related individuals over age 60 who are not residents of an institution or boarding house, but are living as one economic unit sharing common cooking facilities and for whom food is customarily purchased in common." 7 U.S.C. § 2012 (e).

The Regulations provide: "'Household' means a group of persons, excluding roomers, boarders, and unrelated live-in attendants necessary for medical, housekeeping, or child care reasons, who are not residents of an institution or boarding house, and who are living as one economic unit sharing common cooking facilities and for whom food is customarily purchased in common: Provided, That:

"(1) When all persons in the group are under 60 years of age, they are all related to each other; and

"(2) When more than one of the persons in the group is under 60 years of age, and one or more other persons in the group is 60 years of age or older, each of the persons under 60 years of age is related to each other or to at least one of the persons who is 60 years of age or older." 7 CFR § 270.2 (jj).

"Eligibility for and participation in the program shall be on a household basis. All persons, excluding roomers, boarders, and unrelated live-in attendants necessary for medical, housekeeping, or child care reasons, residing in common living quarters shall be consolidated into a group prior to determining if such a group is a household as determined in § 270.2 (jj) of this subchapter." 7 CFR § 271.3 (a).

2 ^ . The purpose of the present Act was stated by Congress:

"To safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation's population and raise levels of nutrition among low-income households. The Congress hereby finds that the limited food purchasing power of low-income households contributes to hunger and malnutrition among members of such households. The Congress further finds that increased utilization of food in establishing and maintaining adequate national levels of nutrition will promote the distribution in a beneficial manner of our agricultural abundances and will strengthen our agricultural economy, as well as result in more orderly marketing and distribution of food. To alleviate such hunger and malnutrition, a food stamp program is herein authorized which will permit low-income households to purchase a nutritionally adequate diet through normal channels of trade." 7 U.S.C. § 2011. (Italics added.)

3 ^ . See 116 Cong. Rec. 42003.

4 ^ . H. R. Conf. Rep. No. 91-1793, p. 8.