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Frontiero v. Richardson

United States Supreme Court
411 U.S. 677 (1973)


Congress passed a law granting members of the armed services with dependents an increased housing allowance, as well as medical and dental benefits for their dependents. 37 U.S.C. §§ 401, 403; 10 U.S.C. §§ 1072, 1076. However, servicemen were permitted to claim their wives as dependents, regardless of whether the wife was actually dependent. Servicewomen, in contrast, were only permitted to claim their husbands as dependents upon a showing that the husband was actually dependent on the servicewoman for more than half of his support. Sharron Frontiero (plaintiff), a member of the United States Air Force, tried to claim her husband (plaintiff) as a dependent. Frontiero’s application was denied, because she did not make the required showing of dependence. Frontiero alleged that this policy violated the procedural and substantive requirements of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment by imposing additional procedural burdens on female service members and extending dependency benefits to non-dependent spouses of male service members. Frontiero brought suit in federal district court against the Secretary of Defense, Richardson, and others (defendants). A majority of the three-judge district court upheld the armed services policy, concluding that Congress might have believed the policy was economical and efficient since husbands are typically breadwinners and wives are typically dependent. The Frontieros appealed directly to the United States Supreme Court.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Brennan, J.)

Concurrence (Powell, J.)

Concurrence (Stewart, J.)

Dissent (Rehnquist, J.)

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