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et al. Heckler v. Mathews

Question Of Gender Based Classification, Individual Rights And Congressional Intent, Circumvention Of Legislative Intent, Impact


Margaret M. Heckler, Secretary of Health and Human Services


Robert H. Mathews, et al.

Petitioner's Claim

By permitting a brief, five-year exclusion period which temporarily revived gender-based discrimination in awarding retiree benefits to spouses, the Social Security Act, as amended in 1977, did not violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Chief Lawyer for Petitioner

Mark L. Levy

Chief Lawyer for Respondent

John R. Benn

Justices for the Court

Harry A. Blackmun, William J. Brennan, Jr. (writing for the Court), Warren E. Burger, Thurgood Marshall, Sandra Day O'Connor, Lewis F. Powell, Jr., William H. Rehnquist, John Paul Stevens, Byron R. White

Justices Dissenting



Washington, D.C.

Date of Decision

5 March 1984


Although 1977 amendments to the Social Security Act permitted unequal awarding of benefits between men and women, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the lower court ruling that there was no violation of the Due Process Clause; the provisions of a five-year exemption only temporarily revived gender-based discrimination for the justifiable protection of people who planned their retirements based on the old law.


In Heckler v. Mathews, et al. the Court reinforced the collaborative role between legislative and judicial branches of the government. The Court's ruling remained consistent with past decisions which held that gender discrimination was permissible under circumstances in which the government had a rational, overriding justification.

Related Cases

  • Simon v. Eastern Kentucky Welfare Rights Organization, 426 U.S. 26 (1976).
  • Califano v. Goldfarb, 430 U.S. 199 (1977).
  • Califano v. Silbowitz, 430 U.S. 924 (1977).
  • Jablon v. Califano, 430 U.S. 924 (1977).
  • Gladstone, Realtors v. Village of Bellwood, 441 U.S. 91 (1979).


Branch, Kathryn. "Are Women Really Worth as Much as Men?: Employment Inequities, Gender Roles, and Public Policy (Part 3 or 4)." Duke Journal of Gender Law and Policy, 1 January 1994.

Further Readings

  • Hall, Kermit L., ed. The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1981 to 1988