Walters, Administrator of Veterans' Affairs v. National Association of Radiation Survivors
Decided on June 28, 1985; 473 US 305


I. ISSUES II. CASE SUMMARY III. AMICI CURIAE IV. DECISION V. WIN OR LOSS?
I. ISSUES:

A. Issues Discussed:  Governmental Authority (regulation), 5th Amendment, 1st Amendment

B. Legal Question Presented: 

Does Title 38 U.S.C. 3404(c) violate the 1st and 5th Amendments because it limits the fee that may be paid to an attorney or agent who represents a veteran seeking benefits for service-connected death or disability?

II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

Title 38 U.S.C. 3404(c) limits to $10 the fee that may be paid to an attorney or agent who represents a veteran seeking benefits from the Veterans' Administration (Petitioner) for service-connected death or disability. Appellees (two veterans' organizations, three individual veterans, and a veteran's widow) brought an action in Federal District Court claiming that the fee limitation denied them any realistic opportunity to obtain legal representation in presenting their claims to the VA, and hence violated their rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment and under the First Amendment. The District Court agreed with the appellees and ordered a nationwide "preliminary injunction" barring fee limitation enforcement.  Petitioners appealed the decision of the District Court for the Northern District of California and the United States Supreme Court reviewed the case again.
B. Counsel of Record:
ACLU Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Opposing Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Gordon P. Erspamer argued the cause and filed a brief for appellees. National Association of Radiation Survivors, et al., filed a brief for appellee.
Mark I. Levy argued the cause for appellants. With him on the briefs were Solicitor General Lee, Acting Assistant Attorney General Willard, Deputy Solicitor General Geller, and William Kanter.
C. The Arguments:
ACLU Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Opposing Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Unavailable Unavailable
III. AMICI CURIAE:
ACLU Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Opposing Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed for the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, et al., by Burt Neuborne, Charles S. Sims, Alan L. Schlosser, and Amitai Schwartz; for the American Veterans Committee, Inc., by Michael W. Beasley, Allan L. Kamerow, Lawrence E. Lewy, and Irving R. M. Panzer; for the Federal Bar Association by Alfred F. Belcuore; for the Lawyers' Club of San Francisco by Jerome Sapiro, Jr., and Fred H. Altshuler; for the National Association of Atomic Veterans by Walter R. Allan, Karen J. Wegner, and Debra B. Keil; for Vietnam Veterans of America by Mary E. Baluss, Samuel M. Sipe, Jr., David F. Addlestone, and Barton F. Stichman; and for Andrew Groza by James Joseph Lynch, Jr. Joseph C. Zengerle filed a brief for Disabled American Veterans as amicus curiae urging reversal.
IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

“[A]ppellees' First Amendment arguments, at base, are really inseparable from their due process claims. The thrust is that they have been denied 'meaningful access to the courts' to present their claims. This must be based in some notion that VA claimants, who presently are allowed to speak in court, and to have someone speak for them, also have a First Amendment right to pay their surrogate speaker; beyond that questionable proposition, however, even as framed appellees' argument recognizes that such a First Amendment interest would attach only in the absence of a 'meaningful' alternative. [Our] analysis of appellees' due process claim focused on substantially the same question - whether the process allows a claimant to make a meaningful presentation - and we concluded that appellees had such an opportunity under the present claims process, and that significant Government interests favored the limitation on 'speech' that appellees attack. Under those circumstances appellees' First Amendment claim has no independent significance.”

Held: The judgment of the District Court is reversed.
Justice Vote: 3 Pro vs. 6 Con

  • Rehnquist, W. Con (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Burger, W. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • White, B. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Blackmun, H. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Powell, L. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • O’Connor, S., Con (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Stevens, J. Pro (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Brennan, W. Pro (Joined dissenting opinion)
  • Marshall, T. Pro (Joined dissenting opinion)
V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

The ACLU filed as amicus urging affirmance; the United States Supreme Court reversed the ruling of the District Court for the Northern District of California in a 6-3 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent loss.