Commentary on Dandridge v. Williams

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Book Section

Publication Date


Publication Title

Feminist Judgments: Family Law Opinions Rewritten


Junius and Jeanette Gary were married in Baltimore, Maryland in 1952. During the early years of their marriage, Jeanette suffered several miscarriages and was told that she could not have children. Much to their surprise, Jeanette eventually gave birth to eight children. The pregnancies took a toll on Jeanette’s health and an automobile accident left Junius also unable to work any longer. The Gary family survived on public assistance through the federal welfare program, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). However, Maryland’s maximum grant regulation – a provision that placed an upper limit on welfare payments regardless of the number of children in the family – made it difficult for the Gary family to live under one roof. Yet Junius and Jeanette “shared one overriding goal: to keep the family together at any cost.” As their son Junius Jr. later explained: “Life was a constant struggle to make ends meet. There were hungry days. We had to ration. We sometimes only ate once or twice a day.” The Gary family sued to enjoin Maryland’s welfare scheme as violating both federal statutory law and the Equal Protection Clause. The case ultimately reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld “family caps” on subsistence payments to poor families in Dandridge v. Williams.

This chapter of Feminist Judgments: Family Law Opinions Rewritten (Rachel Rebouché ed., 2020) reimagines the majority opinion in Dandridge v. Williams, 397 U.S. 471 (1970). The actual case rejected challenges under both the Social Security Act and the U.S. Constitution to Maryland’s maximum family grant regulation, which capped public assistance and effectively allocated fewer dollars to support each member of a large family than to each member of a small family. The feminist judgment invokes the “war on poverty,” the long history of both sex and race discrimination in the United States, the economic inequalities arising from such discrimination, and principles of reproductive justice to invalidate the maximum family grant regulation. In doing so, the new opinion recognizes a constitutional right to minimum welfare, consistent with a robust scholarly literature from the era when the Court decided the case. Professor Maya Manian’s commentary complements the rewritten opinion, providing background material, analysis of the feminist judgment, and reflections on what difference the reimagined outcome and reasoning could have made going forward.


Poverty, Reproductive Justice, Welfare Fights. Public Assistance, Race Discrimination, Sex Discrimination, Economic Inequality, Positive Rights, Family Autonomy

Publication Citation

Susan Appleton & Maya Manian, Commentary on Dandridge v. Williams in Feminist Judgments: Family Law Opinions Rewritten 14–36 (Rachel Rebouché ed., 2020)