High Court Rules On Welfare

The Supreme Court began its annual spring sprint to a summer recess Monday. The court is expected to issue 36 more signed decisions before its term ends in late June.

Decisions announced Monday involved:

  • Welfare To Newcomers

    The court ruled that newcomers to a state have to be paid the same welfare benefits as longtime residents. The Supreme Court struck down a California policy to limit the amount of welfare it gives to those who have lived in the state for less than a year. California wanted to pay such recpients only what they would have gotten in the last state where they lived.

    But the justices say that's unconstitutional because it violates the right to travel. The decision will almost certainly affect 14 other states with similar laws.

    Congress allowed such policies in its 1996 welfare overhaul. But the high court says lawmakers can't authorize policies that violate the Constitution.

  • Election Redistricting

    Another ruling makes it harder for federal judges to reject election districts because they seem to be drawn along racial lines. This could have a big impact on disputes about redistricting after the 2000 census.

    The court reversed a lower court's conclusion that a congressional district in North Carolina was unlawfully drawn.

    The district is represented by Democrat Mel Watts. He's one of two blacks elected to Congress in 1992 from North Carolina which hadn't sent a black to Washington since 1901.

    A three-judge federal court ruled last year that an election map devised by the North Carolina legislature in 1997 was too race-conscious. But the Supreme Court says the federal judges should first have conducted a full trial to make sure of that.

  • Privacy of Drivers' Records

    The court granted a Clinton administration appeal and agreed to judge the validity of a federal law that closes state motor vehicle records to the public.

    The justices will use a dispute from South Carolina to decide, sometime in 2000, whether Congress unlawfully usurped state governments' authority when it enacted the Driver's Privacy Protection Act of 1994.

    The law, which took effect in most states in 1997, bars states and their employees from releasing most "personal information" about drivers gathered in the licensing process. Name, address, telephone number, Social Security, photograph and other forms of identification are to be inaccessible.

    States routinely sell such information to businesses, charities and political candidates. Such sales account for millions of dollars in state revenues each year. When the law was enacted, 34 states made motor vehicle records public in some form.

    The federal law was enacted in response to the 1989 slaying of actress Rebecca Schaeffer, killed at her California home by a stalker who used a private investigator to obtain her driver's license records.

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