Title: Califano v Goldfarb, 1977
Medium: Gouache and ink on paper
Story: Leon Goldfarb, a widower in the state of New York, applied for survivor benefits under the Social Security Act. Leon Goldfarb’s late wife had worked as a secretary for New York City public schools for nearly twenty-five years and paid all of her social security taxes until her death in 1968. Upon his wife’s death, Leon Goldfarb applied for survivor benefits but was denied. The relevant statute, 42 U.S.C § 402(f)(1)(D), mandated that surviving widowers must meet the burden of proving that they had been receiving over half of their financial support from their wives.The law made no such requirement for widows, who would be provided survivor benefits regardless of their dependency on their husbands.
Goldfarb challenged the constitutionality of the statute in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York. He was represented by Nadine H. Taub, Rutgers Law School professor and attorney at the Women’s Rights Litigation Clinic of Rutgers Law School-Newark and the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation. The lower court ruled in Goldfarb’s favor, holding that the provision of the Social Security Act that denied benefits to widowers was unconstitutional as discriminating against widowers on the basis of sex. The Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare appealed the decision to the Supreme Court.
Goldfarb was represented by future Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who at the time was co-founder and general counsel of the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union.This case was one of several gender discrimination cases that Ginsburg successfully argued in front of the Supreme Court between 1973 and 1976. Similar to her arguments in Frontiero v. Richardson, Ginsburg argued in her brief that a reliance on gender stereotypes which served to devalue women’s roles as breadwinners constituted gender-based discrimination in violation of equal protection. She argued that the social security statute in question “assume[d] gainful employment as a domain in which men come first, women second,” and that the statute favored “one type of marital unit over another.”
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court upheld the decision of the District Court. Justice Brennan’s opinion, which was joined by Justice White, Justice Marshall, and Justice Powell, determined that the gender-based distinction violates the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. The Court agreed with Ginsburg’s arguments, noting that the distinction in the federal requirements “deprive[s] women of protection for their families which men receive as a result of their employment.” (Wikipedia)