Equal Protection refers to the right enshrined in the U.S. Constitution not to be discriminated against by the government. Because of the Equal Protection Clause, state laws must treat all individuals the same under the same circumstances. While the equal protection clause does not guarantee equality, it does guarantee that laws will apply equally to everyone.
Issues with the Equal Protection clause can arise if state or federal laws grant or deny certain individuals the right to engage in a particular activity that others are not permitted to do. The Equal Protection clause was used to overturn Brown v. Board of Education permitting segregation; as well as to lift the ban on interracial marriages and to prohibit the use of racial quotas in college admissions systems.
If you believe that a law is being applied in a discriminatory manner, you may be able to make a claim in federal court under the Equal Protection clause. You need an experienced San Diego civil litigation lawyer to help you understand your rights and protect yourself from discriminatory behavior. Contact Sepahi Law Group, APC to speak with an attorney who can help.
Understanding the Equal Protection Clause
The Equal Protection Clause is found in the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution. It reads as follows:
“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
Based on the plain text of the Equal Protection Clause, it applies only to states. However, the courts have ruled that the requirements of equal protection apply to the federal government as well. For example, in a 1954 case called Bolling v. Sharpe addressing racial segregation in Washington D.C. public schools, the court found that discrimination could be a violation of the Fifth Amendment due process clause. The 5th and 14th Amendments, therefore, combine to ensure that the government at any level cannot make or apply laws in a discriminatory fashion.
When a law treats different groups of people differently and the law is challenged, the Court may apply either a rational basis text or a strict scrutiny test depending upon the situation. If the law is clearly meant to discriminate, if the law interferes with fundamental constitutional rights, and/or if the law treats people differently on the basis of race, gender or national origin, then it may be considered a suspect classification and strict scrutiny will apply.
The rational basis test requires the government to demonstrate that there is a rational reason for the law that serves a legitimate state purpose. Strict scrutiny, on the other hand, is the most stringent standard of judicial review. For a law to stand up to strict scrutiny, there must be a compelling government interest for it, it must be narrowly tailored to achieve the goal and the least restrictive means must be used for achieving the goal.
Equal protection cases can be very complicated because they raise constitutional questions. A San Diego civil rights lawyer at Sepahi Law Group, APC can help if you believe you have a case based on equal protection. Call today to schedule a free consultation and learn more.