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Former guardsman takes Social Security benefit case to Supreme Court

Lawyers say had a former Michigan National Guard member lived in Minnesota, he’d see full benefits.
Published: Oct. 12, 2021 at 3:19 PM EDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - A former Michigan National Guardsman will put his service and career in the spotlight in front U.S. Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court will work to sort out some confusion over Social Security payments for some military reservists who were also classified as civilian employees.

The court is being asked sort out a few things here. One issue, there are conflicting lower court rulings which lawyers for the former reservist bringing this case say set an uneven standard across the country. They say had their client lived in Minnesota instead of Michigan, then he would be receiving his full Social Security benefits.

Former Supreme Court clerk and current Walter S. Cox Professor of Law at George Washington University, Paul Schiff Berman, said the mismatching opinions need to be resolved.

“The Supreme Court is here just to create uniformity, to rule one way or the other so all people in this particular person’s situation are treated the same,” Schiff Berman said. “Whether that means they’re treated as military personnel or not, we don’t know.”

In this case, former Michigan National Guard member David Babcock served as a reservist while also working as a civilian employee for the guard, a so-called “dual-status technician.”

He started working in the civilian role between 1968 and 1984, a window where dual-status technicians didn’t pay social security tax, and instead paid into a civil service pension. So the government is offsetting the pension money the now-retired Babcock receives with reduced Social Security benefits.

Normally if you were a full-time military person, it wouldn’t get reduced. But in this case, this person is only a quasi-military person and so the question is should his social security benefits be reduced or not,” said Schiff Berman.

The Department of Justice will argue for the Social Security Administration and wrote to the court that a plain reading of the law shows the government is properly reducing Babcock’s benefits. The government also argues dual-status technicians hired after 1984 will be unaffected by the outcome of this case since they have been paying into Social Security during their employment.

Legal teams for Babcock and the federal government declined our request for interviews. Oral arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court are expected to begin Wednesday at 11 a.m.

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