Federal cases: All, greatest hits

Case                             Summary                     Importance                           Attorney             Others Involved

314 U.S. 160 (1941)
Decided: 1941-11-24
Type: Criminal
A statute of California making it a misdemeanor for anyone knowingly to bring or assist in bringing into the State a nonresident "indigent person" held invalid as an unconstitutional burden on interstate commerce.

From Marie A. Failinger, The Poverty Law Canon: Exploring the Major Cases, University of Michigan Press, 2016: “Edwards is rich with significance for the circuitous doctrinal path of the constitutional right to travel, which has been thoroughly analyzed by many scholars. Here, I mean not to retrace those doctrinal steps but to suggest a different, additional enduring importance of the case. Edwards rejected a century of case law (which itself drew on hundreds of years of British common law and statutes) that affirmed states’ police power to exclude “paupers, vagrants, and convicts” and reiterated that paupers were a “moral pestilence.”

“Edwards thus marks a critical step in the journey of the most indigent Americans to citizenship. Although it would take decades more for the poor to approach real citizenship and for states to revise or repeal settlement and residence laws, prohibitions on voting or marrying, vagrancy laws, and other repressive measures against the poor, after Edwards, the term “pauper” evolved into what it is today: a mere synonym, albeit an antiquated one, for an indigent. Edwards is the case, therefore, that transformed the poorest Americans from “paupers” —­ a distinct legal category of those subject to universal opprobrium and with little claim to rights —­ into people.”

Mr. Samuel Slaff, of New York City, for appellant. (Neighborhood Legal Services of DC)

Mr. John H. Tolan, of Oakland, Cal., for the Select Committee of the House of Representatives of the United States, appointed pursuant to House Resolution No. 63, April 22, 1940, to investigate Interstate Migration of Destitute Citizens, as amicus curiae by special leave of Court.
372 U.S. 335
Decided: 1963-03-18
Type: Criminal
Landmark unanimous ruling that states are required under the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to provide an attorney to defendants in criminal cases who are unable to afford their own.

The case extended the right to counsel, which had been found under the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to impose requirements on the federal government, by imposing those requirements upon the states as well.

Martin Kelly, “The Right to Counsel in Criminal Cases”, ThoughtCo, 2019: “Significance of Gideon v. Wainwright: Gideon v. Wainwright overruled the previous decision of Betts v. Brady (1942). In this case, Smith Betts, a farm worker in Maryland had asked for counsel to represent him for a robbery case. Just as with Gideon, this right was denied him because the state of Maryland would not provide attorneys except in capital case. [In Betts], [t]he Supreme Court decided by a 6-3 decision that a right to an appointed counsel was not required in all cases in order for an individual to receive a fair trial and due process in state trials. It was basically left up to each state to decide when it would provide public counsel. Justice Hugo Black dissented and wrote the opinion that if you were indigent you had an increased chance of conviction.

“In Gideon, the court stated that the right to an attorney was a fundamental right ​for a fair trial. They stated that due to the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, all states would be required to provide counsel in criminal cases. This significant case created the need for additional public defenders. Programs were developed in states around the country to help recruit and train public defenders. Today, the number of cases defended by public defenders is huge. For example, in 2011 in Miami Dade County, the largest of the 20 Florida Circuit Courts, approximately 100,000 cases were assigned to Public Defenders.”

Abe Fortas, by appointment of the Court, 370 U.S. 932 , argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the brief were Abe Krash and Ralph Temple. Abe Fortas was a Washington, D.C. attorney and future Supreme Court justice.

J. Lee Rankin, by special leave of Court, argued the cause for the American Civil Liberties Union et al., as amici curiae, urging reversal. With him on the brief were Norman Dorsen, John Dwight Evans, Jr., Melvin L. Wulf, Richard J. Medalie, Howard W. Dixon and Richard Yale Feder. A brief for the state governments of twenty-two States and Commonwealths, as amici curiae, urging reversal, was filed by Edward J. McCormack, Jr., Attorney General of Massachusetts, Walter F. Mondale, Attorney General of Minnesota, Duke W. Dunbar, Attorney General of Colorado, Albert L. Coles, Attorney General of Connecticut, Eugene Cook, Attorney General of Georgia, Shiro Kashiwa, Attorney General of Hawaii, Frank Benson, Attorney General of Idaho, William G. Clark, Attorney General of Illinois, Evan L. Hultman, Attorney General of Iowa, John B. Breckinridge, Attorney General of Kentucky, Frank E. Hancock, Attorney General of Maine, Frank J. Kelley, Attorney General of Michigan, Thomas F. Eagleton, Attorney General of Missouri, Charles E. Springer, Attorney General of Nevada, Mark McElroy, Attorney General of Ohio, Leslie R. Burgum, Attorney General of North Dakota, Robert Y. Thornton, Attorney General of Oregon, J. Joseph Nugent, Attorney General of Rhode Island, A. C. Miller, Attorney General of South Dakota, John J. O’Connell, Attorney General of Washington, C. Donald Robertson, Attorney General of West Virginia, and George N. Hayes, Attorney General of Alaska. Robert Y. Thornton, Attorney General of Oregon, and Harold W. Adams, Assistant Attorney General, filed a separate brief for the State of Oregon, as amicus curiae.
350 F.2d 445 (D.C. Cir. 1965)
DC Circuit
Decided: 1965-08-11
Type: Civil
Where the element of unconscionability is present at the time a contract is made, the contract should not be enforced. The case is remanded to the lower court to determine whether the contract was unconscionable.

Anne Fleming, “Remaking the ‘Law of the Poor’: Williams v. Walker-­Thomas Furniture Co.”, in “The Poverty Law Canon: Exploring the Major Cases”, edited by Failinger & Rosser, University of Michigan Press, 2016: “From Watts to Washington, debt collection lawsuits were commonplace for poor families buying on credit in America’s cities. They often ended in the loss of the household’s furniture or the garnishment of the breadwinner’s wages. …. With the aid of a volunteer lawyer, Williams contested the store’s right to seize all her purchases. Both the trial judge and the intermediate appellate court ruled in favor of the store…. In 1965… [at] the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit… the case took an unexpected turn. Judge Skelly Wright of the D.C. Circuit handed down his soon-to-be-famous opinion in the case…. Wright declared that courts in the District would not enforce a contract if the bargain was ‘unconscionable,’ meaning that there was ‘an absence of meaningful choice’ for one party along with ‘terms which are unreasonably favorable to the other party.’ Wright found that the store’s contract with Williams was potentially ‘unconscionable’ and therefore unenforceable. He remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings. The decision was among of the first in the country to apply the doctrine of unconscionability. Judge Wright later predicted that the doctrine would be part of ‘a growing area of the law —­ the law of the poor.'”

Wikipedia: “As a staple of first-year law school contract law courses, it has been briefed extensively. It is also used as a case study in some modern economics classes.”

Mr. Pierre E. Dostert, Washington, D. C., counsel for appellants in No. 18,605, argued for all appellants. Mr. R. R. Curry, Washington, D. C., for appellant in No. 18,604.

Mr. Gerhard P. Van Arkel (appointed by this court), Washington, D. C., as amicus curiae.
392 U.S. 309 (1968)
Decided: 1968-06-17
Type: Civil
AFDC cannot be withheld because of the presence of a "substitute father" who visited a family on weekends. The issue before the US Supreme Court involved how the states could determine how to implement a federal program. The court used the term "co-operative federalism."

Led to the enforcement of federal statutory law not only in the legal welfare area but also, until recently, set the framework for enforcement of federal law across the board.

Henry Freedman, “Sylvester Smith: Unlikely Heroine: King v. Smith”, in “The Poverty Law Canon: Exploring the Major Cases”, edited by Failinger & Rosser, University of Michigan Press, 2016: “Sylvester Smith, a 34-­ year-­ old Selma, Alabama, African American widow with four children, was unaware of a press conference held in Washington, D.C., in February 1966. At that conference, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund lawyers urged the federal government to stop state welfare agencies from refusing to help children of a woman who had a steady male friend: The needy mother without a husband is caught in an impossible dilemma . She may try to conduct a secret relationship, endanger her grant, and live as if she were a criminal, or she may abandon her effort to develop male friendships altogether, or she may strip herself of every last vestige of dignity by reporting constantly on the intimacies of her friendship. Edward Sparer, who had just founded the Center on Social Welfare Policy and Law (now the National Center for Law and Economic Justice), said this was “one of the most important and most significant issues in welfare.” A few months later, Sylvester Smith’s battle to keep her benefits launched a struggle that went to the Supreme Court, revolutionized our understanding of the welfare law, and resulted in hundreds of thousands of poor families getting desperately needed help.”

Martin Garbus (American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU) argued the cause and filed a brief for appellees.

Briefs of amici curiae, urging affirmance, were filed by Jack Greenberg, James M. Nabrit III, Leroy D. Clark, and Charles Stephen Ralston for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., et al., and by Helen L. Buttenwieser and Ephraim London for the Child Welfare League of America, Inc., et al
394 U.S. 618 (1969)
Decided: 1969-04-21
Type: Civil
Absent a compelling state interest, state laws that impose residency requirements to obtain welfare assistance violate the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the 14th Amendment. Such laws also violate the constitutional right to travel by inhibiting migration by needy persons into the state.

Sheldon Goldman, Oxford Reference: “This decision provided a precedent for successful attacks on other residency requirements such as those for voting and for practicing law. The impact of the decision on the poor was considerable and as a result, many thousands received welfare assistance who otherwise would not have received it.”

Elisa Minoff, “Legal Services Attorneys and Migrant Advocates Join Forces: Shapiro v. Thompson”, in “The Poverty Law Canon: Exploring the Major Cases”, edited by Failinger & Rosser, University of Michigan Press, 2016: “Durational residence requirements had made life difficult for poor people on the move since the colonial era. Descended from Elizabethan-­ era poor laws that required ‘settlement’ in a community in order to be eligible for relief, residence requirements limited public assistance to those who had lived in a state or locality for the length of time stipulated by the state’s statute, often one year…. Shapiro v. Thompson was very much of its moment. It was made possible by the new federal funding disbursed by the Office of Economic Opportunity as part of the War on Poverty and by the law review articles, conferences, strategy-­focused ‘back up centers,’ and storefront legal services offices that funding supported. When the Supreme Court held residence requirements unconstitutional in 1969, the decision quickly became a landmark in the new area of social welfare law. Many contemporaries saw it as a step toward establishing a right to welfare. But Shapiro v. Thompson was not just about welfare and welfare rights. It was also about migration and the right to move.”

Archibald Cox argued the cause for appellees in all three cases on the reargument. With him on the brief were Peter S. Smith and Howard Lesnick (Neighborhood Legal Services of DC). Brian L. Hollander argued the cause pro hac vice for appellee in No. 9 on the original argument. With him on the brief were Norman Dorsen and William D. Graham. Mr. Smith argued the cause for appellees in No. 33 on the original argument. With him on the brief were Joel J. Rabin, Jonathan Weiss, and Joseph F. Dugan. Thomas K. Gilhool (Community Legal Services, Philadelphia) argued the cause pro hac vice for appellees in No. 34 on the original argument. With him on the brief were Harvey N. Schmidt, Paul Bender, and Mr. Lesnick.

Briefs of amici curiae in support of appellee in No. 9 were filed by Arthur L. Schiff for Bexar County Legal Aid Association; by Eugene M. Swann for the Legal Aid Society of Alameda County; and by A. L. Wirin, Fred Okrand, Laurence R. Sperber, and Melvin L. Wulf for the American Civil Liberties Union et al. Brief of amicus curiae in support of appellees in No. 33 was filed by John F. Nagle for the National Federation of the Blind. Briefs of amici curiae in support of appellees in all three cases were filed by J. Lee Rankin and Stanley Buchsbaum for the City of New York; by Joseph B. Robison, Carlos Israels, and Carl Rachlin for the American Jewish Congress et al.; and by Charles L. Hellman and Leah Marks for the Center on Social Welfare Policy and Law et al.
397 U.S. 254 (1970)
Decided: 1970-03-23
Type: Civil
The Due Process Clause provides the right to a full hearing before welfare benefits are terminated.

Perhaps the greatest victory. Led to the due process revolution. Goldberg required the government to follow due process when seeking to terminate benefits.

Melanie B. Abbott, “Dignity and Passion Goldberg v. Kelly” in “The Poverty Law Canon: Exploring the Major Cases”, edited by Failinger & Rosser, University of Michigan Press, 2016: “The barriers confronting Kelly and his fellow plaintiffs were in no way unique; the plaintiffs represented hundreds, even thousands of others who had fought similar battles simply to survive in the city. A snapshot of the welfare picture in 1967–­ 68 reveals that the city’s welfare rolls were increasing at the rate of 14,000 people per month in early 1968.”

Lee A. Albert (Center for Social Welfare Policy and Law) argued the cause for appellees. With him on the brief were Robert Borsody, Martin Garbus, and David Diamond (Mobilization for Youth Legal Services).

A brief of amicus curiae was filed by Victor G. Rosenblum and Daniel Wm. Fessler for the National Institute for Education in Law and Poverty.
397 U.S. 397 (1970)
Decided: 1970-04-06
Type: Civil
Neither the doctrine of primary jurisdiction nor that of exhaustion of administrative remedies precludes federal court jurisdiction of an action brought by welfare recipients seeking to determine whether a state law was inconsistent with the requirements of the federal Social Security Act.

Wendy A. Bach, “Litigating in the Zeitgeist: Rosado v. Wyman”, in “The Poverty Law Canon: Exploring the Major Cases”, edited by Failinger & Rosser, University of Michigan Press, 2016: “[Rosado v. Wyman] was filed in 1969, at the apex of the welfare rights movement and in response to drastic grant cuts that were a direct attack by the State of New York on one of the most potent tools of that movement. It was filed at a political moment when actors across the political spectrum believed that the nation was on the verge of instituting a national guaranteed minimum income. By 1970, it appeared that the plaintiffs had achieved a modest win. In response to the Supreme Court opinion in Rosado, the state reversed course and raised benefit levels. But that victory would not hold. Just a year later, citing the very same opinion, the state lowered benefit levels. This strange reversal in the state’s position on welfare benefit levels between 1970 and 1971 was possible and indeed legal because ultimately the win in Rosado relied not on the strength of federal welfare law but on the strength of the welfare rights movement and the political consensus about whether or not the state had a moral obligation to meet the needs of women and children on welfare. In New York State, the politics of that question shifted dramatically between 1969 and 1971. And Rosado’s fate shifted with it…. The case begins, and the story continues, in 1969 as the plaintiffs’ lawyers faced a frontal attack on the welfare rights movement. And the story ends in 1971 as the movement faltered, the idea of a national guaranteed annual income (GAI) faded, and Rockefeller turned rightward, joining a growing chorus of those who would scapegoat and stigmatize poor women, poor children,and poor communities.”

Lee A. Albert (Center for Social Welfare Policy and Law) argued the cause for petitioners. With him on the brief were Carl Rachlin and Martin Garbus.

Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed by Alan H. Levine, Melvin L. Wulf, Eleanor Holmes Norton, and Martin M. Berger for the New York Civil Liberties Union et al.; by Karl D. Zukerman, Dorothy Coyle, and Mildred Shanley for the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York et al.; and by Floyd Sarisohn for People for Adequate Welfare.
428 F.2d 1071 D.C. Cir., denied cert. 400 U.S. 925 (1970)
DC Circuit
Decided: 1970-05-07
Type: Civil
The court determined that if the premises become uninhabitable, the tenant is freed from their obligation to pay rent. SCOTUS affirmed.

Arguably the most influential landlord-tenant case of the twentieth century. First established the doctrine of implied warranty of habitability in landlord–tenant law. This doctrine is also the major rule, reflected in the Uniform Residential Landlord-Tenant Act, and is the rule of the Restatement of American Law of Property. For “urban dwelling units”, the opinion set aside the “old doctrines” of landlord-tenant law based on agrarian feudal property law, and embraced a modern approach to leases which considers them contracts landlords and tenants.

Mr. Edmund E. Fleming, Boston, Mass., for appellants. Neighborhood Legal Services Program of Washington DC.

Mrs. Caryl S. Terry, Washington, D. C., filed a brief on behalf of Washington Planning and Housing Association as amicus curiae urging reversal. Mrs. Margaret F. Ewing, Mrs. Florence Wagman Roisman and Mrs. Patricia M. Wald, Washington, D.C., filed a brief on behalf of Neighborhood Legal Services Program as amicus curiae urging reversal. Messrs. Myron Moskovitz and Peter Honigsberg filed a brief on behalf of National Housing Law Project as amicus curiae urging reversal.
407 U.S. 25 (1972)
Decided: 1972-06-12
Type: Criminal
An indigent criminal defendant cannot be subjected to actual imprisonment unless provided with counsel. Specifically, the right to counsel applies if the defendant could actually be imprisoned, even for so-called petty offenses where no jury trial is required or the sentence would be less than six months.

From jrank.org (https://law.jrank.org/pages/23841/Argersinger-v-Hamlin-Significance.html): “The Florida court had based its decision on a U.S. Supreme Court case, Duncan v. Louisiana (1968), in which the Court had ruled that the right to a court-appointed attorney only extended to indigent defendants charged with non-petty offenses punishable by more than 6 months imprisonment. The issue in Duncan had been the Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury, so now the Court turned to another precedent, Gideon v. Wainwright (1963), to address the issue of incarceration of criminal defendants without representation. The holding there–that indigent defendants in felony cases have a right to appointed counsel–was now extended to include misdemeanor defendants facing prison sentences. As Justice Douglas wrote for the Court: ‘We hold, therefore, that absent a knowing and intelligent waiver, no person may be imprisoned for any offense, whether classified as petty, misdemeanor, or felony, unless he was represented by counsel at his trial.'”

Bruce S. Rogow (Greater Miami Legal Services) argued the cause for petitioner on the reargument and J. Michael Shea argued the cause pro hac vice on the original argument. With them on the brief was P. A. Hubbart.

Solicitor General Griswold argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae on the reargument urging reversal. With him on the brief were Assistant Attorney General Petersen, Deputy Solicitor General Greenawalt, Harry R. Sachse, Beatrice Rosenberg, and Sidney M. Glazer. Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed by William E. Hellerstein for the Legal Aid Society of New York, and by Marshall J. Hartman for the National Legal Aid and Defender Association.