The Law School Authority

Kahn v. Shevin Case Brief

Summary of Kahn v. Shevin, 416 U.S. 351 (1974)

Facts: Since 1885 Fl has provided some form of statutory exemption from property tax for widows, but not widowers.  Kahn, a widower, applied for the exemption.

Issue(s): Whether a Fl Statute that classifies on the basis of gender and provides favorable treatment for women while excluding men violates the 14th?

Holding: classifications designed to remedy past discrimination against women were upheld when addressing benign discrimination.

Procedure: Cnty Tax Assessor denied application of Kahn.  Circuit CT of Cnty held the statute violated the EP C of the 14th; Fl S. Ct Reversed finding the classification valid b/c it had a fair and substantial relation to the object of the legislation–reduction of disparity between the economic capabilities of men and women after the death of their spouse.  U.S. S.Ct Affirmed.

Rule(s): 14th

Rationale: The financial difficulties facing a woman are beyond those facing a man. The job market is inhospitable to the woman in any position except the lowest paying.  Despite advances in the law, entrenched practices resist legal pressures.   While the widower can usually continue in the occupation which preceded his spouse’s death, in most cases the widow is forced to find a job in a market she is unfamiliar with and b/c of her former economic dependency, she will have fewer skills to offer.

FL’s law providing different treatment to widows and widowers rests on fair and substantial relation to the object of the legislation.  The law at issue does not rest solely on administrative convenience.  It is a state tax law Rbly designed to further the state policy of softening the financial impact on the gender for whom the loss imposes a disproportionately heavy burden.  Where taxation is concerned, absent a federal right (except EP) is at risk, states have a wide leeway in making classifications and drawing lines to produce Rble systems of taxation.  Such a law is not arbitrary although it discriminates if the discrimination is based on a Rble distinction or difference in state policy, not in conflict w/ U.S. Const.

DISSENT: Gender based classification statutes should face strict scrutiny like race, alienage b/c an immutable characteristic is involved which the individual has not control over.

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