The Law School Authority

Frontiero v. Richardson Case Brief

Summary of Frontiero v. Richardson, 411 U.S. 677 (1973)

Facts: To attract career personnel in the military through re-enlistment, Congress enacted legislation providing fringe benefits for members of the military service in a manner similar to the private sector.  Members with dependents were entitled to increases in allowances and benefits.  Ms. Frontiero, a Lt in the USAF, sought these increases by claiming her husband as a “dependent.”  Her application was denied b/c she failed to show her husband was dependent on her for more than one-half of his support.  If the roles were reversed he would have automatically received the increases.

Issue(s): Whether the difference in treatment for a woman service person and a male service person seeking housing allowances and health benefits constitutes an unconstitutional form of discrimination in violation of DP of 5th Amend?

Holding: Classifications based on sex, like race and alienage, are inherently suspect and must be subjected to close judicial scrutiny. By according differential treatment to male and female members for the sole purpose of achieving administrative convenience violates DP of 5th insofar as it requires women to prove dependency.

Procedure: Application denied by USAF. Complaint filed in D. Ct. 3 judge D. Ct applied R. Relation and held Congress could have concluded husbands are generally considered the breadwinner and the wife traditionally the dependent and thus it would be more economical to require married women to prove actual dependency–considerable savings.  U.S.S.Ct Reversed.

Rule(s): 5th Amend.

Rationale: We agree that classifications based on sex, like race and alienage, are inherently suspect and must be subjected to close judicial scrutiny.  Our Nation has had a long and unfortunate history of sex discrimination.  Here, the sole basis of the classification is sex.  The Govt conceded that the purpose of the statute is administrative convenience.  Govt offers no evid to show the difference in treatment saves money.  Govt has Bo’P (Strict Scrut) it is actually cheaper to grant the increases w/ respect to ALL male members, not merely to show savings to male members w/ wives who are dependents.  There is evid that many of the wives of male members would fail to qualify.

Efficient operation of govt is an important objective, but merely claiming efficaciousness is insufficient in this context.  Any statutory scheme that draws a sharp line btwn sexes, solely to achieve administrative convenience, automatically causes dissimilar treatment for men and women similarly situated.  This involves the type of arbitrary legis’v choice forbidden.

Pl’s A: The legislative distinction, when based solely on sex, unreasonably discriminates in violation of DP of the 5th Amendment. The Discrim. IMPACT: 1) procedural, female member is required to show her spouse’s dependency, but no such burden exists for male members; 2) substantive, males who do not provide more than one-half of their wive’s support receive the benefits and similarly situated women are denied.  Classification on sex are inherently suspect.

Df’s A: Wives in our society are frequently dependent on their husbands, while husbands are rarely dependent on their wives.  Congress could have Rbly concluded it was cheaper and easier to presume wives of male members are financially dependent on their husbands, and requiring women to prove the contrary.

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