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Case Basics
Docket No. 
Leon Goldfarb
Joseph Califano, Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare
(Deputy Solicitor General, Department of Justice, argued the cause for the appellant)
(argued the cause for the appellee)
Facts of the Case 

Leon Goldfarb was a widower who applied for survivor's benefits under the Social Security Act. Even though his wife Hannah had paid Social Security taxes for 25 years, his application was denied. To be eligible for benefits under 42 U.S.C. Section 402, he must have been receiving half his support from his wife at her time of death. Section 402 did not impose this requirement on widows whose husbands had recently passed away. Goldfarb challenged this statute under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York. The District Court ruled that the statute was unconstitutional. The Government appealed to the Supreme Court.


Do the gender-based requirements for survivor's benefits in Section 402 violate the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment?

Decision: 5 votes for Goldfarb, 4 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Social Security, as amended, including Social Security Disability Benefits Reform Act, but excluding Medicare, Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, and Aid to Families with Dependent Children

Yes. In a 5-4 decision, the Court affirmed the District Court in holding the statute unconstitutional. Writing for a four-justice plurality, Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. described this situation as "indistinguishable" from the one in Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld, where a similar statute was invalidated. In this case, a female worker's family was less protected than the family of a male worker. The court rejected the "archaic and overbroad" generalizations that a wife is more likely to be dependent on her husband than a husband on his wife. These "old notions" of gender roles were not sufficient to justify the different treatment of widows and widowers, and which was therefore in violation of the Due Process Clause.

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CALIFANO v. GOLDFARB. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 26 August 2015. <>.
CALIFANO v. GOLDFARB, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, (last visited August 26, 2015).
"CALIFANO v. GOLDFARB," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed August 26, 2015,