King v. Smith
Security, et al. v. Smith et al.
Decided on June 17, 1968; 392 US 309


A. Issues Discussed: Equal protection, discrimination

B. Legal Question Presented:

Is "Alabama's so-called 'substitute father' regulation, which denies AFDC payments to the children of a mother who 'cohabits' in or outside her home with any single or married able-bodied man, consistent with Subchapter IV of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. 601-609, and with the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?"

A. Background:

"Under the Aid to Families With Dependent Children Program (AFDC) established by the Social Security Act of 1935 funds are made available for a 'dependent child' largely by the Federal Government, on a matching fund basis, with the participating State administering the program in conformity with the Act and regulations of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW).

Section 406 (a) of the Act defines a 'dependent child' as one who has been deprived of 'parental' support or care by reason of the death, continued absence, or incapacity of a 'parent,' and insofar as relevant in this case aid can be granted under the provision only if a 'parent' of the needy child is continually absent from the home.

Alabama, which like all other States, participates in the AFDC program, in 1964 promulgated its 'substitute father' regulation under which AFDC payments are denied to the children of a mother who 'cohabits' in or outside her home with an able-bodied man, a 'substitute father' being considered a nonabsent parent within the federal statute. The regulation applies regardless of whether the man is the children's father, is obliged to contribute to their support, or in fact does so.

The AFDC aid which appellee Mrs. Smith and her four children, who reside in Alabama, for several years had received was terminated in October 1966 solely because of the substitute father regulation on the ground that a Mr. Williams came to her home on weekends and had sexual relations with her. Mr. Williams is not the father of any of her children, is not obliged by state law to support them, and does not do so.

Appellees thereupon brought this class action in the District Court against appellants, officers, and members of the Alabama Board of Pensions and Security for declaratory and injunctive relief against the substitute father regulation.

The State contended that the regulation simply defines who is a nonabsent 'parent' under the Act, is a legitimate way of allocating its limited resources available for AFDC assistance, discourages illicit sexual relationships and illegitimate births, and treats informal 'married' couples like ordinary married couples who are ineligible for AFDC aid so long as their father is in the home. The District Court found the regulation inconsistent with the Act and the Equal Protection Clause."

On appeal the US Supreme Court affirmed the District Court's judgment.

B. Counsel of Record:
Opposing Side
Unavailable Unavailable
C. The Arguments:
Opposing Side
Unavailable Unavailable
Opposing Side
Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance, were filed by Jack Greenberg, James M. Nabrit III, Leroy D. Clark, and Charles Stephen Ralston for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., et al., and by Helen L. Buttenwieser and Ephraim London for the Child Welfare League of America, Inc., et al.

Martin Garbus argued the cause and filed a brief for appellees.

Mary Lee Stapp, Assistant Attorney General of Alabama, argued the cause for appellants. With her on the briefs were MacDonald Gallion, Attorney General, and Carol F. Miller, Assistant Attorney General.


"Alabama's substitute father regulation is invalid because it defines 'parent' in a manner that is inconsistent with 406 (a) of the Social Security Act, and in denying AFDC assistance to appellees on the basis of the invalid regulation Alabama has breached its federally imposed obligation to furnish aid to families with dependent children with reasonable promptness to all eligible individuals.

Insofar as Alabama's substitute father regulation (which has no relation to the need of the dependent child) is based on the State's asserted interest in discouraging illicit sexual behavior and illegitimacy it plainly conflicts with federal law and policy. Under HEW's 'Flemming Ruling' as modified by amendments to the Social Security Act, Congress has determined that immorality and illegitimacy should be dealt with through rehabilitative measures rather than measures punishing dependent children, whose protection is AFDC's paramount goal.

Congress meant by the term 'parent' in 406 (a) of the Act an individual who owed the child a state-imposed duty of support, and Alabama may not therefore disqualify a child from AFDC aid on the basis of a substitute father who has no such duty. "

The US Supreme Court affirmed the District court's judgment.

Justice Vote: 9 Pro vs. 0 Cons
  • Warren, E. Pro (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Marshall, T. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Black, H. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Stewart, P. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Fortas, A. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Brennan, W. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Harlan, J. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • White, B. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Douglas, W.  Pro (Wrote concurring opinion)

    The ACLU, as counsel of record, urged affirmance of the District Court's Judgment; the US Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's ruling in a 9-0 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.