Automating Inequality

Automating Inequality

How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor

Virginia Eubanks

Goldberg v. Kelly. This landmark case found that all welfare recipients have a right to an evidentiary hearing—a process that includes timely and adequate notice, disclosure of opposing evidence, an impartial decision-maker, cross-examination of witnesses, and the right to retain legal representation—before their benefits can be terminated. By successfully reframing public benefits as property rather than charity, the welfare rights movement established that public assistance recipients must be provided due process under the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. The case hinged on the understanding, expressed by Justice William Brennan, that abrupt termination of aid deprives poor people of both their means of survival and their ability to mount an adequate challenge to government decisions. “From its founding, the Nation’s basic commitment has been to foster the dignity and well-being of all persons within its borders,” Brennan wrote. “Public assistance, then, is not mere charity, but a means to ‘promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.’”

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