WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday rejected state welfare reform efforts that pay new residents lower benefits than longer-term residents, and, in doing so, the justices revitalized a near-dormant corner of constitutional law.

In Saenz v. Roe, 98-97, a 7-2 majority, led by Justice John Paul Stevens, struck down California’s welfare restriction limiting newcomers in their first year of residency to the same amount of benefits they would have received in their prior state. Those discriminatory restrictions, held the high court, violate the right to travel, which, in turn, is protected by the Privileges or Immunities clause of the 14th Amendment.

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