2005-09-29 / Letters to the Editor


You can do it, but is it legal?

The town’s Affordable Housing Plan has been approved by the state. I am not an attorney, but neither are the locals who drafted it nor the state bureaucrats who approved it. Will it withstand a court challenge? The devil is in the details.

This may come as a surprise to many, but the idea that Jamestown residents should be given a preference when it comes to affordable housing for whatever real or imagined suffering they face, and that a Jamestown resident should be given 10 extra points to be able to live in the Beavertail lighthouse, is unconstitutional.

This is based on a landmark 1971 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Graham vs. Richardson (403 U.S. 365), where the court decided that durational residency requirements are unconstitutional because they violate the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

Same with Saenz v. Roe (U.S. 1999), where the Supreme Court said that denial of benefits based on residence infringes on the right to travel and results in unequal treatment of a state’s citizens. “States (and therefore also towns) do not have a right to select their citizens.” In this case, the court ruled that unequal treatment violates Section 1 of the 14th Amendment, the Privileges and Immunities Clause. “Neither the length of residency in the state nor the state of prior residence is relevant to individuals’ current need for benefits.”

The above cases and the following were copied from the Web site of the Connecticut attorney general who was asked to research this subject.

The validity of durational residency requirements has been tested in a number of equal protection cases challenging states’ classifications according to residency. Over the past 23 years, the United States Supreme Court has consistently found that durational residency requirements for state programs which provide substantial benefits to otherwise qualified residents implicate the constitutionally protected right to travel. Attorney General of New York v. Soto-Lopez, 476 U.S. 898, 907-8 (1986); Hooper v. Bernalillo, 472 U.S. 612 (1985); Zobel v. Williams, 457 U.S. 55 (1982); Memorial Hospital v. Maricopa County, 415 U.S. 250 (1974); Shapiro v. Thompson, 394 U.S. 618 (1969).

Without exception, states defending such durational residency requirements before the Court have been unable to establish a compelling state interest supporting their statutes, despite arguments that such rules promote the fiscal integrity of public assistance programs, reward longer term residents for past tax contributions, facilitate budget planning, encourage full employment, minimize the opportunity for fraud, and provide an objective test of residency. See, e.g., Shapiro, 394 U.S. at 62834; Memorial Hospital v. Maricopa County, 415 U.S. at 263-269.

“The state may not favor established residents over new residents based on the view that the State may take care of ‘its own’, if such is defined by prior residence. Newcomers, by establishing bona fide residence in the State, become the State’s ‘own’ and may not be discriminated against solely on the basis of their (later) arrival in the State. . . .” Concurring opinion of Chief Justice Burger, in Attorney General of New York v. Soto-Lopez, 476 U.S. at 915-16, citing Hooper v. Bernalillo County Assessor, 472 U.S. 612, 623 (1985).

Even here in R.I. on March 18, 1998 U.S. Continued from page 6

District Judge Ronald Lagueux held unconstitutional a key piece of the 1996 Welfare Reform legislation enacted by the General Assembly, requiring residents to live in R.I. for a least 12 consecutive months before becoming eligible for full benefits. His ruling: “It is clear to this court that the statute penalizes the exercise of the right to move to Rhode Island (and therefore to Jamestown), the statute sends a clear message to such persons that they are unworthy of the same treatment accorded longtime residents. . . . ”

Supreme Court rulings become the law of the land, even in Jamestown. Let’s obey them and not use Beavertail for affordable housing.

Frank Meyer,

Jamestown Thanks to all for ‘filling the helmet’

The Jamestown Fire Department’s “Fill the Helmet,” fund-raiser for Hurricane Katrina relief was a huge success!

Over $2,000 was raised for the victims of the hurricane. Half the money will go to the American Red Cross, which will be matched by BankNewport. The other half will go to the Humane Society .

Thank you to all who contributed. Your money will go far in helping people and pets get back on their feet and back into their homes. Thank you again,

Chief Bob Bryer and

Volunteers of the Jamestown Fire Department

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