Equal Protection
Equal Protection
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Equal Protection Terms

Get down with the lingo.
Alexander V. Holmes County Board Of Education
In this 1969 case, the United States Supreme Court rejected a request from the Justice and Heath, Education, and Welfare Departments that 33 Mississippi school districts be allowed to delay submission of their desegregation plans. In the majority opinion, Justice Hugo Black wrote that "'all deliberate speed' has turned out to be only a soft euphemism for delay." He therefore stated that "there is no longer the slightest excuse, reason, or justification for further postponement of the time when every public school system in the United States will be a unitary one, receiving and teaching students without discrimination on the basis of their race or color."5
Bowers V. Hardwick
In this 1986 case, the United States Supreme Court ruled that Georgia's anti-sodomy laws did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment. In a concurring opinion written by Warren Burger, the Justice noted that "condemnation of [homosexual activity] is firmly rooted in Judeo-Christian moral and ethical standards." He cited the eighteenth-century legal scholar, William Blackstone, in support. "Blackstone described 'the infamous crime against nature' as an offense of 'deeper malignity' than rape, a heinous act 'the very mention of which is a disgrace to human nature,' and 'a crime not fit to be named.'6
Bradwell V. Illinois
In this 1873 case, the United States Supreme Court upheld an Illinois law denying women the right to practice law because "the civil law, as well as nature itself, has always recognized a wide difference in the respective spheres and destinies of man and woman."7
Brown V. Board Of Education, Topeka, Kansas
In this 1954 case, the United States Supreme Court reversed the 1896 decision in Plessy v. Ferguson and ordered the integration of America's schools with "all deliberate speed." Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote that the doctrine of separate but equal had no place in education as "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal." Drawing upon psychological studies as well as legal principles, Warren argued that separating black children "from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone." Warren held that the obligation of the Court to redress this inequity was all the greater because the detrimental impact of segregation was "greater when it has the sanction of the law, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group."8
City Of Richmond V. J.A. Croson Company
In this 1989 case, the United States Supreme Court struck down a municipal program that set aside 30% of all public works contracts for minority businesses. As in Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education, the Court found inadequate proof of specific, local discrimination to warrant the use of racial classifications. It insisted that affirmative action programs employing racial classifications were permissible, but only when constructed as a remedy for proven and specific discrimination in the past.
Craig V. Boren
In this 1976 case, the United States Supreme Court held that an Oklahoma statute, which set different legal drinking ages for men and women, violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The ruling set an "intermediate" standard for judicial scrutiny of laws incorporating gender classifications. Justice William J. Brennan, in the majority opinion, stated that "classifications by gender must serve important governmental objectives and must be substantially related to achievement of those objectives."9
Equal Protection Clause
This is part of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution ratified in 1868. It states that "no state shall . . . deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." While proposed after the Civil War to protect the recently freed slaves, the use of the phrase "any person" within the clause has been interpreted to guarantee a certain degree of protection to all persons.
Fullilove V. Klutznick
In this 1980 case, the United States Supreme Court upheld a federal law requiring that ten percent of all public works contracts be awarded to minority owned businesses.
Goodridge V. Department Of Public Health
In this 2003 case, the Massachusetts State Supreme Court ruled that state statutes barring same-sex marriage were in violation of the equal protection and due process clauses of the state constitution. The court granted the state legislature 180 days to bring state marriage statutes into line with this ruling. Members of the state senate subsequently attempted to amend the state constitution to ban gay marriage, but they failed.
Gratz V. Bollinger And Grutter V. Bollinger
In these 2003 cases involving the University of Michigan's undergraduate and law school admissions policies, respectively, the United States Supreme Court served notice that affirmative action programs employing racial classifications would be subject to close scrutiny by the Court. If racial classifications were applied too heavily, as was the case with Michigan's undergraduate admissions policies, according to the Court, they would be struck down. If race was used more carefully along with many other factors in order to achieve diversity, as was the case with the law school admissions program, the Court would accept it. But, added Justice Sandra O'Connor, the Court's support for even these more carefully structured programs was limited. Within a generation, she suggested, the use of these sorts of racial classifications would not be acceptable to the Court.
Green V. School Board Of New Kent County
In this 1968 case, the United States Supreme Court struck down the "freedom of choice" school integration plan of this Virginia district. Noting that the freedom to choose could easily result in the perpetuation of traditional attendance patterns, the Court held that district integration plans must promise to achieve the actual objective of integration. School integration could not be left to chance, the Court said, and districts must "come forward with a plan that promises realistically to work, and promises realistically to work now."10
Hoyt V. Florida
In this 1961 case, the United States Supreme Court upheld a Florida law that allowed women to opt out of jury service because "despite the enlightened emancipation of women . . . woman is still regarded as the center of home and family life."11

In this 1973 case, the United States Supreme Court held that evidence of discriminatory action in one part of the district justified a conclusion of district-wide discriminatory practice warranting district-wide judicial intervention. Moreover, the Court argued that the burden lies with the district to prove otherwise.
Lawrence V. Texas
In this 2003 case, the United States Supreme Court struck down the state's "Homosexual Conduct" law. The majority opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy relied primarily upon the rational basis test—that is, the Court found "no legitimate state interest" in this law so directly impacting one classification of people. But portions of the opinion that referenced a more fundamental right to privacy and marriage suggested to some that the ruling opened the door to future judicial support for gay marriage. After noting the "constitutional protection to personal decisions relating to marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships, child rearing, and education," Kennedy added, "persons in a homosexual relationship may seek autonomy for these purposes, just as heterosexuals do."12
Lindsley V. Natural Carbonic Gas Company
In this 1911 case involving New York state's regulatory powers over a privately-owned gas company, the United States Supreme Court established a still-used test for assessing the constitutionality of state laws that employ classifications—that is, laws that treat different people or entities differently. The "Lindsley test" states that if the classification has a "reasonable basis" and is not "purely arbitrary," and "if any state of facts reasonably can be conceived that would sustain it," the use of a classification does not violate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In addition, parties challenging the fairness of such a law bear the burden of proving that it "does not rest upon any reasonable basis, but is essentially arbitrary."13
Loving V. Virginia
In this 1967 case, the United States Supreme Court held that states cannot ban interracial marriage since "the freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men."14

In this 1967 case, the United States Supreme Court ruled that Virginia's ban on interracial marriage violated the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Michael M. V. Superior Court
In this 1981 case, the United States Supreme Court upheld a California statutory rape law that forbade men (but not women) over 18 to have sex with non-spousal partners under 18. The petitioner argued that this treated men unfairly. But the Court held that the governmental objective was important—preventing teen pregnancy—and the different treatments accorded men and women were "substantially related" to the achievement of that objective. Since men could not get pregnant (even men under 18) the law need not protect young men in the same way that it could protect young women.15
Milliken V. Bradley
In this 1977 case, the United States Supreme Court held that school districts could be compelled to establish programs aimed at correcting educational deficiencies caused by past discriminatory practices. Even though a district's current practices might not be discriminatory, a district could be forced to set up remedial programs to close educational gaps resulting from past behaviors or policies.
Missouri V. Jenkins
In this 1990 case, the United States Supreme Court held that federal courts can order local districts to increase taxes in order to fund remedial programs established to address educational deficiencies caused by past discriminatory practices. In this particular instance, the Court held that the federal court abused its authority by not first allowing the school district to devise its own funding solution. But the Court insisted that federal courts did have the authority to order tax increases to correct constitutional violations.
Orr V. Orr
In this 1979 case, the United States Supreme Court ruled that an Alabama law freeing all women from the obligation to pay alimony was unconstitutional. While the governmental objective was legitimate—providing financial relief to the poor—it was not reasonable or fair to assume that salary differentials between spouses always corresponded with gender. In fact, the Court said, the law unfairly punished poor men and advantaged wealthy women.
"Philadelphia Order"
President Richard Nixon issued this order requiring the city's building contractors holding government contracts to set specific goals and timetables for hiring minority workers. This order added specificity and teeth to the federal government's (to this point vaguely defined) policy of affirmative action.
Plessy V. Ferguson
In this 1896 case, the United States Supreme Court upheld a Louisiana law requiring that trains provide separate but equal railroad cars for white and black passengers. In the majority opinion, Justice Henry Billings Brown wrote that the Louisiana statute did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment because, while "the object of the amendment was undoubtedly to enforce the absolute equality of the two races before the law . . . in the nature of things, it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political, equality, or a commingling of the two races upon terms unsatisfactory to either." In a dissent, Justice John Marshall Harlan wrote that "in view of the Constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law."16
Proposition 209
In 1996, California voters passed this proposition amending the state constitution to prohibit public agencies, including state colleges and universities, from giving "preferential treatment to any individual or group in public employment, public education, or public contracting on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin."17
Regents Of The University Of California V. Bakke
In this 1978 case, the United States Supreme Court ruled that while admissions quotas could not be used by colleges to increase minority enrollment, race could be used as one factor among many in evaluating student applications. Allan Bakke brought the suit after being denied admission to the University of California, Davis Medical School and discovering that minority applicants with lower grades and test scores had been admitted to fill sixteen admissions slots (out of a total class of 100) that had been set aside for minority applicants.
Romer V. Evans
In this 1996 case, the United States Supreme Court struck down Colorado's "Amendment 2" that forbade local governments from drafting legislation protecting gays against discrimination. The Court held that the amendment served no rational government purpose and therefore failed the rational basis test. The decision marked the first time that the Court identified gays and lesbians as a distinct legal classification entitled to legal protection.18
Rostker V. Goldberg
In this 1981 case, the United States Supreme Court held that federal laws excluding women from the military draft were not unconstitutional as the use of a gender classification in this instance was "substantially related" to the achievement of an "important governmental objective." Since the primary purpose of the draft was to identify a pool of combat-capable persons, and since women were excluded by the military from combat, the unequal treatment of men and women was defensible.19
Swann V. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board Of Education
In this 1971 case involving a court ordered plan to desegregate Charlotte, North Carolina's schools, the United States Supreme Court held that federal courts have broad powers to define corrective measures for racially imbalanced schools. It further held that these measures could include the redrawing of district boundaries and the busing of students to more distant schools.
United States V. Fordice
In this 1992 case, the United States Supreme Court held that even though the University of Mississippi currently maintained "race—neutral policies," vestiges of its former discriminatory practices remained. The fact that entrance standards at the historically white institutions were higher than those of the historically black institutions was "suspect because it originated as a means of preserving segregation." The Court also noted that the state maintained duplicate programs, also suspiciously reminiscent of the state's former "separate—but—equal" system. Until these remnants of the state's old segregated college system were eliminated, Mississippi had not met its obligations under the Fourteenth Amendment.20
United States V. Virginia
In this 1996 case, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the Virginia Military Institute's exclusion of women was unconstitutional. VMI argued that the admission of women would lead to compromised physical and military standards and an erosion of the ethos essential to "the unity of the corps."21 The Court rejected this argument in holding that "generalizations about 'the way women are,' estimates of what is appropriate for most women," can not be allowed to restrict opportunities for women "whose talent and capacity place them outside the average description."22
Wygant V. Jackson Board Of Education
In this 1986 case, the United States Supreme Court held that a contract granting minority teachers more protection against lay-offs than white teachers violated the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court found inadequate proof of specific, local discrimination to warrant the use of racial classifications. It insisted that affirmative action programs employing racial classifications were permissible only when constructed as a remedy for proven and specific discrimination in the past.
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