Filling Everyone’s Bowl: A Call to Affirm a Positive Right to Minimum Welfare Guarantees and Shelter in State Constitutions to Satisfy International Standards of Human Decency

Robert Doughten, Filling Everyone’s Bowl: A Call to Affirm a Positive Right to Minimum Welfare Guarantees and Shelter in State Constitutions to Satisfy International Standards of Human Decency, 39 Gonz. L. Rev. 421 (2004).

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As the United States enters the 21 Century and many of its citizens have no access to shelter, it is necessary for the United States to ensure that the basic human rights of the poor are protected. In 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt voiced the United States’ commitment toward promoting and safeguarding basic human rights in his famous “Four Freedoms Speech.” The third freedom was freedom from want. During his presidency, Roosevelt commented on the duty of Americans to provide for everyone’s needs: “I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished. The test of our progress is not whether we add to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

Today, even when a vast number of Americans live in relative economic wealth, numerous people residing in the United States live in abject poverty and without shelter. As Roosevelt expressed sixty years ago, it is imperative the American people work toward providing for those who have too little.

Positive rights are a tool Americans can use to guarantee that no one is left out in the cold. An established positive right to general assistance disallows the legislature from voting away welfare benefits when sections of the population are unable to provide for their basic needs. Numerous state constitutions provide explicit textual support for establishing a positive right to minimum welfare guarantees and shelter. These states’ constitutional welfare provisions allow courts to establish a judicially enforceable right to public assistance. Furthermore, the United States, being party to certain international covenants and treaties, increases a state court’s ability to interpret its state constitution to establish positive rights to internationally recognized norms of human decency…. Read More

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