Califano v. Torres – Case Brief Summary (U.S. Supreme Court)

In Califano v. Torres, 435 U.S. 1 (1978), the claimants argued that the provisions of the Social Security Act, which make benefits for aged, blind and disabled persons under the supplemental security income program payable only to residents of the United States, violate their constitutional right to travel.

The claimants lost those benefits after relocating from the northeastern United States to Puerto Rico. Id. at 3. The court expressly declined to extend the right to travel to encompass one's right to relocate to another state and yet avail oneself of the benefits to which one was entitled in one's former state. Id. at 4.

In Califano v. Torres, various old age and disability benefits under the Supplemental Security Income Act were payable only while the claimant resided in one of the 50 states or the District of Columbia.

Torres moved to Puerto Rico and the benefit was terminated.

The court recognized that it "has never held that the constitutional right to travel embraces any such doctrine . . . ." Id.

The court further stated that "such a doctrine would apply with equal force to any benefits a State might provide for its residents, and would require a State to continue to pay those benefits indefinitely to any person who had once resided there. And the broader implications of such a doctrine in other areas of substantive law would bid fair to destroy the independent power of each State under our Constitution to enact laws uniformly applicable to all of its residents." Id. at 4-5.

The California Supreme Court declined to hold that the right to travel requires that a person who moves to another state is entitled to receive benefits enjoyed in his former state of residence since doing so would "require a State to continue to pay those benefits indefinitely to any persons who had once resided there." (Id. at p. 4.)