Commentary on Dandridge v. Williams

Commentary on Dandridge v. Williams


Rachel Rebouché


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This chapter of FEMINIST JUDGMENTS: REWRITTEN FAMILY LAW OPINIONS (Rachel Rebouche, ed. 2020) provides commentary on Susan Frelich Appleton’s rewritten majority opinion in Dandridge v. Williams, 397 U.S. 471 (1970). This commentary chapter complements the rewritten opinion, providing background material, analysis of the feminist judgment, and reflections on the implications of the feminist judgment for family law as well as poverty law and reproductive justice. The original opinion in Dandridge v. Williams upheld Maryland’s maximum family grant regulation (or “family cap”), which limited public assistance to poor families and effectively allocated fewer dollars to larger families. Susan Frelich Appleton’s revised judgment departs from the original opinion both rhetorically and substantively in distinctly feminist ways. Appleton uses an intersectional lens in analyzing the impact of the family cap. The feminist judgment addresses not only class, but also how systematic discrimination based on race, disability, gender, and age can intersect and operate together as interlocking systems of oppression, leading to indigence for the most vulnerable groups in society. The revised opinion also brings within judicial purview poor people’s fundamental rights of procreation and family togetherness that the original opinion undermines. Finally, the revised judgment departs most dramatically from the original opinion in its approach to the Equal Protection Clause and the welfare rights thesis — reasoning that the Constitution protects positive rights to the basic necessities of life. The feminist judgment illustrates how welfare reform is a feminist, family law, and reproductive justice issue.




Publication Date


Book Title

Feminist Judgments: Family Opinions Rewritten


Cambridge University Press


Feminist Judgment Series: Rewritten Judicial Opinions


family law, welfare rights, public assistance, poverty law, feminist legal theory, reproductive justice, race discrimination, sex discrimination, U.S. Supreme Court


Constitutional Law | Family Law | Law | Law and Economics | Law and Gender | Law and Race | Law and Society | Sexuality and the Law | Social Welfare Law

Commentary on Dandridge v. Williams