Graham v. Richardson (1971)


According to this U.S. Supreme Court decision of 1971, the classification of “alien” is suspect under the Fourteenth Amendment. As a “discrete and insular minority,” aliens require a high level of judicial protection. In order to be considered constitutional, such a classification must be related to a compelling governmental interest.
The case was originally brought by Carmen Richardson, a Mexican citizen legally admitted to the United States in 1956, against the Arizona commissioner of public welfare, who had denied her public welfare disability benefits on the basis of her not having met the 15-year residency requirement for noncitizens. In a class-action suit, she argued that the residency requirement abridged her constitutional right to “equal protection” under the Fourteenth Amendment. The state appealed her victory in the federal court to the Supreme Court, which ruled that residency requirements did violate the “equal protection” clause. According to the decision, state interest in protecting its financial resources was not sufficiently compelling to override the promised protections. Additionally, the Court ruled that, because the Constitution granted the federal government authority over the admission of aliens and the condition of their residence, state laws interfering with federal laws violate the supremacy clause. A number of exceptions were subsequently made to Graham v. Richardson, including lower burdens of proof for excluding aliens from certain government positions and employment as public school teachers.

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