Courts have upheld residency requirements involving rights that are not fundamental rights under the Constitution. These requirements govern the right to run for public office, the right to start a lawsuit in a state court, the right to attend particular public schools, the right to practice a profession, and the right to work for a government agency. The state needs to provide a rational basis for the residency requirement, which is a lesser standard of constitutional review. Generally, most statutes can be upheld on a rational basis standard because it requires the state only to offer a reasonable justification for the law.
Candidate for Public Office The right to become a candidate for public office is not a fundamental right. A state has the right to impose certain requirements on persons who decide to run for public office within its borders. A bona fide resident of the state or local government subdivision may run for state or local public office. A durational requirement specifying more than a short period of time will likely be struck down as a violation of equal protection.
Jurisdiction When a person's legal rights have been violated, he is entitled to bring a lawsuit in the courts of his state against those who have committed the violation. A state or its subdivision will not allow a person to resort to its courts unless that person can establish that he has some relationship with it that justifies the exercise of jurisdiction of the court. States typically impose residency requirements as a prerequisite to bringing a DIVORCE action. The Supreme Court, in Sosna v. Iowa, 419 U.S. 393, 95 S. Ct. 553, 42 L. Ed. 2d 532 (1975), upheld an Iowa durational residency requirement that prohibited the filing of a divorce action until a person had resided for one year in the state. The Court concluded that the one-year residency requirement merely delayed obtaining judicial relief and was not a permanent barrier. In addition, the state had a compelling interest to justify the one-year requirement. The Court noted that a divorce case affects both spouses, the children of the marriage, and various property rights. Iowa had a compelling interest in making sure that it, rather than another state, was the appropriate place for the lawsuit.
Schools Depending upon state law, the residency of a child and her parents or guardians in a particular school district determines which public elementary and secondary schools that child will attend. States can also validly establish residency requirements to help determine which students are entitled to lower tuition costs at state-operated COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES. Federal courts have upheld the right of a state to impose more stringent admission standards and higher tuition costs on out-of-state residents seeking to attend its institutions of higher learning. There is a reasonable basis for this residency requirement because a state university is created for the citizens of the state and is substantially supported by state taxes.
Professional Requirements A state has the right to establish qualifications that must be satisfied by persons seeking to practice their professions within its borders. Doctors, lawyers, optometrists, dentists, and architects must comply with state regulations that are designed to protect the public from the work of unqualified individuals. Various courts have upheld the requirement that a professional be a resident in the state in which she is seeking to practice, on the basis that the applicant's residency prior to, or during, the time she is seeking a license gives the state examining body a sufficient opportunity to investigate her character and fitness. A residency requirement, however, must accomplish this purpose or it is invalid.
Employment Residency requirements have been consistently upheld as valid prerequisites to municipal or civil service employment. Because there is no constitutional right to be employed by a public agency, any residency requirements must be examined to determine if they have some rational basis. Public bodies base residency requirements for their workers on a number of state interests, including the promotion of ethnic and racial balance in the community, the reduction of high unemployment rates of inner-city minority groups, the ready availability of workers in emergency situations, and the general economic benefits ensuing from local expenditures of employees' salaries. As long as a municipal employee residency requirement is rationally related to one or more of these legitimate government purposes, it does not violate the equal protection of the laws.
Commercial Licenses A state can require that applicants for various types of commercial licenses, such as barbers, bar owners, restaurant owners, or taxi drivers, meet certain residency requirements. This exercise of the state POLICE POWER to protect the public health and safety is valid as long as the residency requirements constitute a reasonable way of enabling the state to accomplish its legitimate goals.