- Equal Protection Clause
The Equal Protection Clause, part of the Fourteenth Amendment to the
United States Constitution, provides that "no state shall… deny to any person within its jurisdictionthe equal protection of the laws. [ [http://www.usconstitution.net/const.html#Am14 U.S. Constitution, Amendment 14] ] " The Equal Protection Clause can be seen as an attempt to secure the promise of the United States' professed commitment to the proposition that " all men are created equal[ [http://www.ushistory.org/Declaration/document/index.htm U.S. Declaration of Independence] ] " by empowering the judiciary to enforce that principle against the states.
More concretely, the Equal Protection Clause, along with the rest of the Fourteenth Amendment, marked a great shift in American constitutionalism. Before the enactment of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Bill of Rights protected individual rights only from invasion by the federal government. After the Fourteenth Amendment was enacted, the Constitution also protected rights from abridgement by state leaders, and governments, even including some rights that arguably were not protected from abridgement by the federal government. In the wake of the Fourteenth Amendment, the states could not, among other things, deprive people of the equal protection of the laws. What exactly such a requirement means, of course, has been the subject of great debate, and the story of the Equal Protection Clause is the gradual explication of its meaning.
One of the main limitations in the Equal Protection Clause is that it limits only the powers of government bodies, and not the private parties on whom it confers equal protection. This limitation has existed since 1883 and has not been overturned. However, since the 1960s, Congress has passed most civil rights legislation under its
The Fourteenth Amendment was enacted in 1868, shortly after the Union victory in the
American Civil War. Though the Thirteenth Amendment, which was proposed by Congress and ratified by the states in 1865, had abolished slavery, many ex-Confederate states adopted Black Codes following the war.
These laws severely restricted the power of blacks to hold
propertyand form legally enforceable contracts. They also created harsher criminal penalties for blacks than for whites. [For details on the rationale for, and ratification of, the Fourteenth Amendment, see generally cite book |title=Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863—1877 |last=Foner |first=Eric |authorlink=Eric Foner |coauthors= |year=1988 |publisher=Harper & Row |location=New York |isbn=006091453X |pages= , as well as cite book |title=Processes of Constitutional Decisionmaking |last=Brest |first=Paul |authorlink= |coauthors="et al." |year=2000 |publisher=Aspen Law & Business |location=Gaithersburg |isbn=0735512507 |pages=241–242 ]
In response to the Black Codes, Congress enacted the
Civil Rights Act of 1866, which provided that all those born in the United States were citizens of the United States (this provision was meant to overturn the Supreme Court's decision in " Dred Scott v. Sandford"), and required that "citizens of every race and color ... [have] full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of person and property, as is enjoyed by white citizens." [See Brest "et al." (2000), pp. 242–46.] Doubts about whether Congress could legitimately enact such a law under the then-existing Constitution led Congress to begin to draft and debate what would become the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The effort was led by the Radical Republicans of both houses of Congress, including John Bingham, Charles Sumner, and Thaddeus Stevens. The most important among these, however, was Bingham, a Congressman from Ohio, who drafted the language of the Equal Protection Clause.
The Southern states were opposed to the Civil Rights Act, but in 1865 Congress, exercising its power under Article I, section 5, clause 1 of the Constitution, to "be the Judge of the … Qualifications of its own Members," had excluded Southerners from Congress, declaring that their states, having rebelled against the Union, could therefore not elect members to Congress. It was this fact—the fact that the Fourteenth Amendment was enacted by a "rump" Congress—that allowed the equal protection clause, which white Southerners almost uniformly hated, to be passed by Congress and proposed to the states. Its ratification by the former Confederate states was made a condition of their reacceptance into the Union. [See Foner (1988), passim. See also cite book |title=We the People, Volume 2: Transformations |last=Ackerman |first=Bruce A. |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=2000 |publisher=Belknap Press |location=Cambridge |isbn=0674003977 |pages=99–252 ]
By its terms, the clause restrains only state governments. However, the Fifth Amendment's
due processguarantee, beginning with " Bolling v. Sharpe" (1954), has been interpreted as imposing the same restrictions on the federal government.
Reconstruction-era interpretation and the "Plessy" decision
The first truly landmark equal protection decision by the Supreme Court was "
Strauder v. West Virginia" (1880), soon after the end of Reconstruction. A black man, named Jeff Katz, convicted of murder by an all-white jurychallenged a West Virginia statuteexcluding blacks from serving on juries. The Court asserted that the purpose of the Clause was
Exclusion of blacks from juries, the Court concluded, was a denial of equal protection to black defendants, since the jury had been "drawn from a panel from which the State has expressly excluded every man of [the defendant's] race."
The next important postwar case was the "
Civil Rights Cases" (1883), in which the constitutionality of the Civil Rights Act of 1875was at issue. The Act provided that all persons should have "full and equal enjoyment of ... inns, public conveyances on land or water, theatres, and other places of public amusement." In its opinion, the Court promulgated what has since become known as the " state action doctrine," which limits the guarantees of the equal protection clause only to acts done or otherwise "sanctioned in some way" by the state. Prohibiting blacks from attending plays or staying in inns was "simply a private wrong," provided, of course, that the state's law saw it as a wrong. Justice John Marshall Harlandissented alone, saying, "I cannot resist the conclusion that the substance and spirit of the recent amendments of the Constitution have been sacrificed by a subtle and ingenious verbal criticism."
Harlan went on to argue that because (1) "public conveyances on land and water" use the public highways, and (2) innkeepers engage in what is "a quasi-public employment," and (3) "places of public amusement" are licensed under the laws of the states, excluding blacks from using these services "was" an act sanctioned by the state.
A few years later, Justice Stanley Matthews wrote the Court's opinion in "
Yick Wo v. Hopkins" (1886). ["Yick Wo v. Hopkins", ussc|118|356|1886.] He said: "These provisions are universal in their application, to all persons within the territorial jurisdiction, without regard to any differences of race, of color, or of nationality; and the equal protection of the laws is a pledge of the protection of equal laws." Thus, the Clause would not be limited to discrimination against African Americans, nor would it be limited to equal enforcement of existing laws.
In its most contentious post-war interpretation of the equal protection clause, "
Plessy v. Ferguson" (1896), the Supreme Court upheld a Louisiana Jim Crow lawthat required the segregation of blacks and whites on railroads and mandated separate railway cars for members of the two races. [For a summary of the social, political and historical background to "Plessy", see cite book |title=The Strange Career of Jim Crow |last=Woodward |first=C. Vann |authorlink=C. Vann Woodward |coauthors= |year=2001 |publisher=Oxford University Press |location=New York |isbn=0195146905 |pages=p. 6 and pp. 69–70 ] The Court, speaking through Justice Henry B. Brown, ruled that the equal protection clause had been intended to defend equality in civil rights, not equality in social arrangements. All that was therefore required of the law was reasonableness, and Louisiana's railway law amply met that requirement, being based on "the established usages, customs and traditions of the people."
Justice Harlan again dissented. "Every one knows," he wrote,
Such "arbitrary separation" by race, Harlan concluded, was "a badge of servitude wholly inconsistent with the civil freedom and the equality before the law established by the Constitution." [For a skeptical evaluation of Harlan, see cite journal |last=Chin |first=Gabriel J. |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1996 |month= |title=The "Plessy" Myth: Justice Harlan and the Chinese Cases |journal=Iowa Law Review |volume=82 |issue= |pages=151 |issn=00210552 |url=http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1121505 |accessdate= |quote= ]
Brown v. Board of Education" (1954), Justice Harlan's dissent in "Plessy" has been vindicated as a matter of legal doctrine, and the clause has been interpreted as imposing a general restraint on the government's power to discriminate against people based on their membership in certain classes, including those based on race and sex (see below).
It was also in the post-Civil-War era that the Supreme Court first decided that corporations were "persons" within the meaning of the equal protection clause. [See "
Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad", ussc|118|394|1886. The Court declared that it did not need to hear argument on whether the Equal Protection Clause protected corporations, because "we are all of the opinion that it does." Id. at 396.] However, the legal concept of corporate personhoodpredates the Fourteenth Amendment. [See "Providence Bank v. Billings", ussc|29|514|1830, in which Chief Justice Marshall wrote: “The great object of an incorporation is to bestow the character and properties of individuality on a collective and changing body of men.” Nevertheless, the concept of corporate personhood remains controversial. See cite journal |last=Mayer |first=Carl J. |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1990 |month= |title=Personalizing the Impersonal: Corporations and the Bill of Rights |journal=Hastings Law Journal |volume=41 |issue= |pages=577 |issn=00178322 |url=http://reclaimdemocracy.org/personhood/mayer_personalizing.html |accessdate= |quote= ] In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Clause was used to strike down numerous statutes applying to corporations. Since the New Deal, however, such invalidations have been rare. [See cite journal |last=Currie |first=David P. |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1987 |month= |title=The Constitution in the Supreme Court: The New Deal, 1931–1940 |journal=University of Chicago Law Review |volume=54 |issue= |pages=504, 547 |issn=00419494 |url= |accessdate= |quote= ]
Between "Plessy" and "Brown"
While the "Plessy" majority's interpretation of the clause stood until "Brown", the holding of "Brown" was prefigured, to some extent, by several earlier cases.
The first of these was "
Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada" (1938). Lloyd Gaineswas a black student at Lincoln University of Missouri, one of the historically black collegesin Missouri. He applied for admission to the law school at the all-white University of Missouri, since Lincoln did not have a law school, but was denied admission due solely to his race. The Supreme Court, applying the separate-but-equal principle of "Plessy", held that a State offering a legal education to whites but not to blacks violated the Equal Protection Clause.
Smith v. Allwright" (1944) and " Shelley v. Kraemer" (1948), though not dealing with education, indicated the Court's increased willingness to find racial discrimination illegal. "Smith" declared that the Democratic primary in Texas, in which voting was restricted to whites alone, was unconstitutional, partly on equal protection grounds. "Shelley" concerned a privately made contract that prohibited "people of the Negro or Mongolian race" from living on a particular piece of land. Seeming to go against the spirit, if not the exact letter, of "The Civil Rights Cases", the Court found that, although a discriminatory private contract could not violate the Equal Protection Clause, the courts' "enforcement" of such a contract could: after all, the Supreme Court reasoned, courts were part of the state.
More important, however, were the companion cases "
Sweatt v. Painter" and " McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents", both decided in 1950. In "McLaurin", the University of Oklahomahad admitted McLaurin, an African-American, but had restricted his activities there: he had to sit apart from the rest of the students in the classrooms and library, and could eat in the cafeteria only at a designated table. A unanimous Court, through Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson, said that Oklahoma had deprived McLaurin of the equal protection of the laws:
The present situation, Vinson said, was the former.
In "Sweatt", the Court considered the constitutionality of Texas's state system of
law schools, which educated blacks and whites at separate institutions. The Court (again through Chief Justice Vinson, and again with no dissenters) invalidated the school system—not because it separated students, but rather because the separate facilities were not "equal". They lacked "substantial equality in the educational opportunities" offered to their students.
All of these cases, including "Brown", were litigated by the
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. It was Charles Hamilton Houston, a Harvard Law Schoolgraduate and a law professor at Howard University, who in the 1930s first began to challenge racial discrimination in the federal courts. Thurgood Marshall, a former student of Houston's and the future Solicitor General and Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, joined him. Both men were extraordinarily skilled appellate advocates, but part of their shrewdness lay in their careful choice of "which" cases to litigate—of which situations would be the best legal proving grounds for their cause. [See generally cite book |title=Origin of the Civil Rights Movements: Black Communities Organizing for Change |last=Morris |first=Aldon D. |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1986 |publisher=Free Press |location=New York |isbn=0029221307 |pages= ]
"Brown" and its consequences
Earl Warrenbecame Chief Justice in 1953, "Brown" had already come before the Court. While Vinson was still Chief Justice, there had been a preliminary vote on the case at a conference of all nine justices. At that time, the Court had split, with a majority of the justices voting that school segregation did not violate the Equal Protection Clause. Warren, however, through persuasion and good-natured cajoling—he had been an extremely successful Republican politician before joining the Court—was able to convince all eight associate justices to join his opinion declaring school segregation unconstitutional. [For an exhaustive history of the "Brown" case from start to finish, see cite book |title=Simple Justice |last=Kluger |first=Richard |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1977 |publisher=Vintage |location=New York |isbn=0394722558 |pages= ] In that opinion, Warren wrote:
The Court then set the case for re-argument on the question of what the solution would be. In "Brown II", decided the next year, it was concluded that since the problems identified in the previous opinion were local, the solutions needed to be so as well. Thus the court devolved authority to local school boards and to the trial courts that had originally heard the cases. ("Brown" was actually a consolidation of four different cases from four different states.) The trial courts and localities were told to desegregate with "all deliberate speed".
Partly because of that enigmatic phrase, but mostly because of self-declared "
massive resistance" in the South to the desegregation decision, integration did not begin in any significant way until the mid-1960s and then only to a small degree. In fact, much of the integration in the 1960s happened in response not to "Brown" but to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Supreme Court intervened a handful of times in the late 1950s and early 1960s, but its next major desegregation decision was " Green v. School Board of New Kent County" (1968), in which Justice William J. Brennan, writing for a unanimous Court, rejected a "freedom-of-choice" school plan as inadequate. This was a significant act; freedom-of-choice plans had been very common responses to "Brown". Under these plans, parents could choose to send their children to either a formerly white or a formerly black school. Whites almost never opted to attend black-identified schools, however, and blacks rarely attended white-identified schools.
In response to "Green", many Southern districts replaced freedom-of-choice with geographically based schooling plans; but because residential segregation was widespread, this had little effect, either. In 1971, the Court in "
Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education" approved busing as a remedy to segregation; three years later, though, in the case of " Milliken v. Bradley" (1974), it set aside a lower court order that had required the busing of students "between" districts, instead of merely "within" a district. "Milliken" basically ended the Supreme Court's major involvement in school desegregation; however, up through the 1990s many federal trial courts remained involved in school desegregation cases, many of which had begun in the '50s and '60s. [For a comprehensive history of school desegregation from "Brown" through "Milliken" (one on which this article relies for its assertions), see Brest "et al." (2000), pp. 768–794.] American public school systems, especially in large metropolitan areas, to a large extent are still de facto segregated. Whether due to "Brown", to Congressional action or to societal change, the percentage of black students attending school districts a majority of whose students were black decreased somewhat until the early 1980s, at which point that percentage began to increase. By the late 1990s, the percentage of black students in mostly minority school districts had returned to about what it was in the late 1960s. [For data and analysis, see cite web |url=http://www.civilrightsproject.harvard.edu/research/deseg/Schools_More_Separate.pdf |title=Schools More Separate |accessdate=2008-07-16 |author=Orfield |month=July |year=2001 |work=Harvard University Civil Rights Project |publisher=]
There are, very broadly speaking, two ways to explain America's marked lack of success in school integration in the five decades since "Brown". One way, sometimes voiced by political conservatives, argues that "Brown"'s relative failure is due to the inherent limitations of law and the courts, which simply do not have the institutional competence to supervise the desegregation of whole school districts. Moreover, the federal government's, and especially the Supreme Court's, hubris actually provoked the resistance of locals, since education in the United States is traditionally a matter for local control. The other way to explain what has happened since "Brown" often has political liberals as its proponents; it argues that the Court's decree in "Brown II" was insufficiently rigorous to force segregated localities into action, and that real success began only after the other two branches of the federal government got involved—the Executive Branch (under Kennedy and Johnson) by encouraging the Department of Justice to pursue judicial remedies against resistant school districts, and Congress by passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the
Civil Rights Act of 1968. [It is important to note that the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968 were enacted under both the Commerce Clause and section five of the Fourteenth Amendment. Insofar as those Acts regulate "private" conduct under the rubric laid down by the "Civil Rights Cases", the Acts were passed by Congress under its Commerce Clause powers. The Supreme Court unanimously deemed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 constitutional under the Commerce Clause in " Katzenbach v. McClung", 379 U.S. 294 (1964) and " Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States", 379 U.S. 241 (1964). In " Fitzpatrick v. Bitzer" (1976), the Supreme Court held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 validly applied to public employers.] Liberals also point out that Richard Nixon's " southern strategy" was premised on a tacit support of segregation that continued when Nixon came to office, so that after 1968 the Executive was no longer behind the Court's constitutional commitments. [For the history of the political branches' engagement with the Supreme Court's commitment to desegregation (and vice versa), see cite book |title=The Warren Court and American Politics |last=Powe |first=Lucas A., Jr. |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=2001 |publisher=Belknap Press |location=Cambridge, MA |isbn=0674006836 |pages= , and cite book |title=Judgment Days: Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Laws That Changed America |last=Kotz |first=Nick |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=2004 |publisher=Houghton Mifflin |location=Boston |isbn=0618088253 |pages= For more on the debate summarized in the text, see, e.g., cite book |title=The Hollow Hope: Can Courts Bring About Social Change? |last=Rosenberg |first=Gerald N. |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1993 |publisher=University of Chicago Press |location=Chicago |isbn=0226727033 |pages= , and cite journal |last=Klarman |first=Michael J. |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1994 |month= |title="Brown", Racial Change, and the Civil Rights Movement |journal=Virginia Law Review |volume=80 |issue= |pages=7 |issn=00426601 |url= |accessdate= |quote= ] Moreover, some, such as Erwin Chemerinsky, argue that courts may have had sufficient ability to ensure widespread integration but simply were not allowed enough time to perform this role, since "Milliken v. Bradley", in 1974—barely a decade since desegregation began in earnest in the South—severely curtained the thoroughgoing methods (e.g. busing) which might have achieved the goal of desegregation.
"Carolene Products" and the various levels of Equal Protection scrutiny
Despite the undoubted importance of "Brown", much of modern equal protection jurisprudence stems from
footnote fourof " United States v. Carolene Products Co." (1938), a Commerce Clauseand substantive due process case. In 1937, the Court (in what was called the "switch in time that saved nine") had loosened its rules for deciding whether Congress could regulate certain commercial activities. In discussing the new presumption of constitutionality that the Court would apply to economic legislation, Justice Harlan Stonewrote:
Thus were born the "more searching" levels of scrutiny—"strict" and "intermediate"—with which the Court would examine legislation directed at racial minorities and women. Although the Court first articulated a "strict scrutiny" standard for laws based on race-based distinctions in "
Hirabayashi v. United States" (1943) and " Korematsu v. United States" (1944), the Court did not apply strict scrutiny, by that name, until the 1967 case of " Loving v. Virginia". Intermediate scrutiny did not command the approbation of a majority of the Court until the 1976 case of " Craig v. Boren".
The Supreme Court has defined these levels of scrutiny in the following way:
Strict scrutiny(if the law categorizes on the basis of race or national origin): the law is unconstitutional unless it is "narrowly tailored" to serve a "compelling" government interest. In addition, there cannot be a "less restrictive" alternative available to achieve that compelling interest.
Intermediate scrutiny(if the law categorizes on the basis of sex): the law is unconstitutional unless it is "substantially related" to an "important" government interest. Note that in past decisions "sex" generally has meant gender.
*Rational-basis test (if the law categorizes on some other basis): the law is constitutional so long as it is "reasonably related" to a "legitimate" government interest.
Although in 1985 the court in
City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center, Inc.held mentally retardedpersons were deemed to be subject to a "rational basis" test, in invalidating seemingly rational zoning laws and land use restrictions, many assert that the court introduced an "enhanced" rational basis test that required the state to show more than a facially valid law and instead to balance the community's needs against the needs of the disabled. [cite web |url=http://www.aclu.org/disability/gen/10648pub19990101.html |title=Disability Rights - ACLU Position/Briefing Paper |accessdate= |work= |publisher= American Civil Liberties Union|date=1999-01-01 ]
There is, arguably, a fourth level of scrutiny for equal protection cases. In "
United States v. Virginia" Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburgeschewed the language of intermediate scrutiny for sex-based discrimination and instead demanded that litigants articulate an "exceedingly persuasive" argument to justify gender discrimination. Whether this was simply a restatement of the doctrine of intermediate scrutiny or whether it created a new level of scrutiny between the intermediate and strict standards is unclear.
Discriminatory intent or disparate impact?
After "Brown", questions still remained about the scope of the equal protection clause. Does the Clause outlaw public policies that cause racial disparities—for example, a public school examination that has not been established for racist reasons, but that more white students than black students pass? Or, on the other hand, does it only outlaw intentional bigotry?
The Supreme Court has answered that the equal protection clause itself does not forbid policies which lead to racial disparities, but that Congress may by legislation prohibit such policies.
Take, for example, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbids job discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, sex or religion. Title VII applies both to private and to public employers. (While Congress applied Title VII to private employers using its interstate commerce power, it applied Title VII to public employers under its power to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment. Title VII's standards for public and private employers are the same.) The Supreme Court ruled in "
Griggs v. Duke Power Co." (1971) that (1) if an employer's policy has disparate racial consequences, and (2) if the employer cannot give a reasonable justification for such a policy on grounds of "business necessity," then the employer's policy violates Title VII. In the years since "Griggs", courts have defined "business necessity" as requiring the employer to prove that whatever is causing the racial disparity—be it a test, an educational requirement, or another hiring practice—has a demonstrable factual relationship to making the company more profitable. [Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is applied to private employers such as Griggs Power through Congress's Commerce Clause power, not through the Fourteenth Amendment. (This is, of course, consistent with the state action doctrine articulated in the "Civil Rights Cases".) However, Title VII also applies to public employers, and the Supreme Court has consistently applied the same disparate impact doctrine to both private and public employers. Compare "Griggs" with " Dothard v. Rawlinson", ussc|433|321|1977, a Title VII suit against the Alabama prison system.]
In situations involving only the equal protection clause, however, the focus of the court is on discriminatory intent. Such intent was manifested in the seminal case of "
Village of Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Development Corp." (1977). In that case, the plaintiff, a housing developer, sued a city in the suburb of Chicago that had refused to re-zone a plot of land on which the plaintiff intended to build low-income, racially integrated housing. On the face, there was no clear evidence of racially discriminatory intent on the part of Arlington Heights's planning commission. The result was racially disparate, however, since the refusal supposedly prevented mostly African-Americans and Hispanics from moving in. Justice Lewis Powell, writing for the Court, stated, "Proof of racially discriminatory intent or purpose is required to show a violation of the Equal Protection Clause." Disparate impact merely has an evidentiary value; absent a "stark" pattern, "impact is not determinative." (See also " Washington v. Davis" (1976).)
Defenders of the rule in "Arlington Heights" and "Washington v. Davis" argue that the equal protection clause was not designed to guarantee equal outcomes, but rather equal opportunities and that therefore one should not be concerned with trying to fix every racially disparate effect. One should worry only about intentional discrimination. Others point out that the courts are merely enforcing the equal protection clause, and that if the legislature wants to correct racially disparate effects, it may do so through further legislation. [For this point, see cite web |url=http://left2right.typepad.com/main/2005/03/constitutional__1.html |title=Constitutional Rights: Two |accessdate= |last=Herzog |first=Don |coauthors= |date=March 22, 2005 |work=Left2Right |publisher= Note, however, that the Court as of late has put significant limits on the
congressional power of enforcement. See " City of Boerne v. Flores", " Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama v. Garrett", and " United States v. Morrison".]
Critics contend, on the other hand, that the rule would exculpate many instances of racial discrimination, since it is possible for a discriminating party to hide its true intention. To uncover the motives of the parties, the court should also consider whether the measure at issue would have disparate impact, critics argue. [Contrast the Court's opinions in "Arlington Heights" and "Washington v. Davis" with, for example, cite journal |last=Krieger |first=Linda Hamilton |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1995 |month= |title=The Content of Our Categories: A Cognitive Bias Approach to Discrimination and Equal Protection Opportunity |journal=
Stanford Law Review|volume=47 |issue= |pages=1161 |id= |url= |accessdate= |quote= , and cite journal |last=Lawrence |first=Charles R., III |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1987 |month= |title=Reckoning with Unconscious Racism |journal=Stanford Law Review |volume=39 |issue= |pages=317 |issn=00389765 |url= |accessdate= |quote= ] This debate, though, goes on almost entirely in the academy, since the Supreme Court has not changed its basic approach as outlined in "Arlington Heights".
For a prime example of how this rule limits the Court's powers under the Equal Protection Clause see "McClesky v. Kemp". In that case a black man was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in the state of Georgia. A law professor, David Baldus, performed a study and found that black defendants in Georgia were much more likely to receive the death penalty. In cases involving black defendants and white victims, the death penalty was given in 22% of cases; whereas in cases involving white defendants and black victims, that penalty was given in only 3% of cases. McClesky's camp argued, in part, that the Georgia capital punishment statute violated the Equal Protection clause because, as the Baldus study showed, it had a pronounced disparate impact. However, McClesky could not show a discriminatory purpose, so the Court denied his claim.
The Supreme Court has seemed unwilling to extend full "
suspect class" status (i.e., status that makes a law that categorizes on that basis suspect, and therefore deserving of greater judicial scrutiny) to groups other than racial minorities and religious groups. In " City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center, Inc." (1985), the Court refused to make the developmentally disabled a suspect class. Many commentators have noted, however—and Justice Marshall so notes in his partial concurrence—that the Court does appear to examine the City of Cleburne's denial of a permit to a group home for mentally retarded people with a significantly higher degree of scrutiny than is typically associated with the rational-basis test. [See cite journal |last=Pettinga |first=Gayle Lynn |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1987 |month= |title=Rational Basis with Bite: Intermediate Scrutiny by Any Other Name |journal=Indiana Law Journal |volume=62 |issue= |pages=779 |issn=00196665 |url= |accessdate= |quote= ; cite journal |last=Wadhwani |first=Neelum J. |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=2006 |month= |title=Rational Reviews, Irrational Results |journal=Texas Law Review |volume=84 |issue= |pages=801, 809–811 |issn=00404411 |url= |accessdate= |quote= ]
Lawrence v. Texas" (2003), the Court struck down a Texas statute prohibiting homosexual sodomyon substantive due process grounds. In Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's opinion concurring in the judgment, however, she argued that by prohibiting only "homosexual" sodomy, and not "heterosexual" sodomy as well, Texas's statute did not meet rational-basis review under the Equal Protection Clause; her opinion prominently cited "City of Cleburne".
Notably, O'Connor did not claim to apply a higher level of scrutiny than mere rational basis, and the Court has not extended suspect-class status to
sexual orientation. Much as in "City of Cleburne", though, the Court's decision in " Romer v. Evans" (1996), on which O'Connor also relied in her "Lawrence" opinion, and which struck down a Coloradoconstitutional amendment aimed at denying homosexuals "minority status, quota preferences, protected status or [a] claim of discrimination," seemed to employ a markedly higher level of scrutiny than the nominally applied rational-basis test. [cite journal |last=Joslin |first=Courtney |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1997 |month= |title=Equal Protection and Anti-Gay Legislation |journal=Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review |volume=32 |issue= |pages=225, 240 |issn=0017-8039 |url= |accessdate= |quote=The "Romer" Court applied a more ‘active,’ "Cleburne"-like rational basis standard… . ; cite journal |last=Farrell |first=Robert C. |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1999 |month= |title=Successful Rational Basis Claims in the Supreme Court from the 1971 Term Through "Romer v. Evans" |journal=Indiana Law Review |volume=32 |issue= |pages=357 |issn=00196665 |url= |accessdate= |quote= ] While the courts have applied rational-basis scrutiny to classifications based on sexual orientation, it has been argued that discrimination based on sex should be interpreted to include discrimination based on sexual orientation, in which case intermediate scrutiny could apply to gay rights cases. [See cite journal |last=Koppelman |first=Andrew |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1994 |month= |title=Why Discrimination against Lesbians and Gay Men is Sex Discrimination |journal=New York University Law Review |volume=69 |issue= |pages=197 |issn=00287881 |url= |accessdate= |quote= ]
Affirmative actionis the policy of consciously setting racial, ethnic, religious, or other kinds of diversity as a goal within an organization. In order to meet this goal, an organization may purposely select people from certain groups that are underrepresented, or have historically been oppressed or denied equal opportunities. In that application of affirmative action, individuals of one or more of these minority backgrounds are preferred—" ceteris paribus"—over those who do not have such characteristics; such a preferential scheme is sometimes effected through quotas, though this need not necessarily be so.
Although there were forms of what is now called affirmative action during the Reconstruction (most of which were implemented by the same persons who framed the Fourteenth Amendment [See cite journal |last=Schnapper |first=Eric |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1985 |month= |title=Affirmative Action and the Legislative History of the Fourteenth Amendment |journal=Virginia Law Review |volume=71 |issue= |pages=753 |issn=00426601 |url= |accessdate= |quote= ] ) the modern history of affirmative action began with the Kennedy administration and started to flourish during the Johnson administration, with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and two Executive Orders. These policies directed agencies of the federal government to employ a proportionate number of minorities whenever possible. [See this subsection in the Wikipedia article on affirmative action.]
Several important affirmative action cases to reach the Supreme Court have concerned government contractors—for instance, "
Adarand Constructors v. Peña" (1995) and " City of Richmond v. J.A. Croson Co." (1989). But the most famous cases have dealt with affirmative action as practiced by public universities: " Regents of the University of California v. Bakke" (1978), and two companion cases decided by the Supreme Court in 2003, " Grutter v. Bollinger" and " Gratz v. Bollinger".
In "Bakke", the Court held that racial quotas are unconstitutional, but that educational institutions could legally use race as one of many factors to consider in their
admissionsprocess. In "Grutter" and "Gratz", the Court upheld both "Bakke" as a precedent and the admissions policy of the University of Michiganlaw school. In dicta, however, Justice O'Connor, writing for the Court, said she expected that in 25 years, racial preferences would no longer be necessary. In "Gratz", the Court invalidated Michigan's undergraduate admissions policy, on the grounds that unlike the law school's policy, which treated race not as one of many factors in an admissions process that looked to the individual applicant, the undergraduate policy used a point system that was excessively mechanistic.
In these affirmative action cases, the Supreme Court has employed, or has said it employed, strict scrutiny, since the affirmative action policies challenged by the plaintiffs categorized by race. The policy in "Grutter", and a Harvard College admissions policy praised by Justice Powell's opinion in "Bakke", passed muster because the Court deemed that they were narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling interest in diversity. On one side, critics have argued—including Justice
Clarence Thomasin his dissent to "Grutter"—that the scrutiny the Court has applied in some cases is much less searching than true strict scrutiny, and that the Court has acted not as a principled legal institution but as a biased political one. [See cite web |url=http://jurist.law.pitt.edu/forum/symposium-aa/schuck.php |title=Reflections on "Grutter" |accessdate= |last=Schuck |first=Peter H. |coauthors= |date=September 5, 2003 |work=Jurist |publisher=] On the other side, it is argued that the purpose of the Equal Protection Clause is to prevent the socio-political subordination of some groups by others, not to prevent classification; since this is so, non-invidious classifications, such as those used by affirmative action programs, should not be subjected to heightened scrutiny. [See cite journal |last=Siegel |first=Reva B. |authorlink=Reva Siegel |coauthors= |year=2004 |month= |title=Equality Talk: Antisubordination and Anticlassification Values in Constitutional Struggles over "Brown" |journal= Harvard Law Review|volume=117 |issue= |pages=1470 |id= |url= |accessdate= |quote= ; cite journal |last=Carter |first=Stephen L. |authorlink=Stephen L. Carter |coauthors= |year=1988 |month= |title=When Victims Happen to Be Black |journal= Yale Law Journal|volume=97 |issue= |pages=420–447 |doi=10.2307/796412 |url= |accessdate= |quote= ]
The Equal Protection Clause and voting
Although the Supreme Court had ruled in "
Nixon v. Herndon" (1927) that the Fourteenth Amendment prohibited denial of the vote based on race, the first modern application of the Equal Protection Clause to voting law came in " Baker v. Carr" (1962), where the Court ruled that the districts that sent representatives to the Tennesseestate legislature were so malapportioned (with some legislators representing ten times the number of residents as others) that they violated the Equal Protection Clause. This ruling was extended two years later in " Reynolds v. Sims" (1964), in which a "one man, one vote" standard was laid down: in both houses of state legislatures, each resident had to be given equal weight in representation.
It may seem counterintuitive that the equal protection clause should provide for equal
voting rights; after all, it would seem to make the Fifteenth Amendment and the Nineteenth Amendment redundant. Indeed, it was on this argument, as well as on the legislative history of the Fourteenth Amendment, that Justice John M. Harlan (the grandson of the earlier Justice Harlan) relied in his dissent from "Reynolds". Harlan quoted the congressional debates of 1866 to show that the framers did not intend for the Equal Protection Clause to extend to voting rights, and in reference to the Fifteenth and Nineteenth Amendments, he said:
However, "Reynolds" and "Baker" do not lack a rationale, if seen from another perspective. The Supreme Court has repeatedly stated that voting is a "fundamental right" on the same plane as marriage ("Loving v. Virginia"), privacy ("
Griswold v. Connecticut" (1965)), or interstate travel ("Shapiro v. Thompson" (1969)). For any abridgment of those rights to be constitutional, the Court has held, the legislation must pass strict scrutiny. [The rights to privacy and to interstate travel are part of the Supreme Court's substantive due process jurisprudence, and therefore are not derived from the equal protection clause; rather, the Court imported the "standard" of strict scrutiny from equal protection jurisprudence into substantive due process jurisprudence. This "importation" is further complicated by the fact that some cases, such as "Loving v. Virginia", actually "combine" Equal Protection issues with substantive due process issues. The right to vote, however, seems to be an exception to the foregoing, in that the substantive right to vote appears to derive not from the Due Process Clause but from the Equal Protection Clause. (See the dicta and concurring opinions in the landmark caseof " San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez".)] Thus, on this account, equal protection jurisprudence may be appropriately applied to voting rights.
A recent use of equal protection doctrine came in "
Bush v. Gore" (2000). At issue was the controversial recount in Floridain the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election. There, the Supreme Court decided that the different standards of counting ballots across Florida violated the equal protection clause. It was not this decision that proved especially controversial among commentators, and indeed, the proposition gained seven out of nine votes; Justices Souter and Breyer joined the majority of five—but only, it should be emphasized, for the finding that there was an Equal Protection violation. What was controversial was, first, the remedy upon which the majority agreed—that even though there was an equal protection violation, there was not enough time for a recount—and second, the suggestion that the equal protection violation was true only on the facts of "Bush v. Gore"; commentators suggested that this meant that the Court did not wish its decision to have any precedential effect, and that this was evidence of its unprincipled decision-making. [For the criticisms seen here, as well as several defenses of the Court's decision, see Bush v. Gore": The Question of Legitimacy", edited by cite book |title= |last=Ackerman |first=Bruce A. |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=2002 |publisher=Yale University Press |location=New Haven |isbn=0300093799 |pages= Another much-cited collection of essays is cite book |title=The Vote: Bush, Gore, and the Supreme Court |last=Sunstein |first=Cass |authorlink=Cass Sunstein |coauthors=Epstein, Richard |year=2001 |publisher=Chicago University Press |location=Chicago |isbn=0226213072 |pages= ]
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