Explain what it protects:
Ask: what does it protect? Answer: well a lot of things
We’re going to be looking most closely at the Equal Protection Clause
Ask: What does equal protection mean?
Answer: basically, a state cannot discriminate against a particular group of its citizens; everybody has to obey the same laws, and those laws must be applied equally across the population.
But laws are by their nature discriminatory (criminal laws are only applied to criminals; people under 21 can be prosecuted for underage drinking, but people over 21 cannot)
So what does discrimination mean in this context? Easier answer: putting some sort of secondary qualification in the law.
So what about things that impact one group more than another?
For example, what about the drinking age? What about truancy laws? These are both age based.
What about maternity leave? These are based on having given birth.
Answer: the government is allowed to pass laws that focus in on one group; if those laws are challenged, those laws fall into a really particular set of standards
Standards of Scrutiny
There are three standards of scrutiny.
The strongest: Strict Scrutiny
The law must implicate a “suspect class,” that is a group that has been historically discriminated against and who cannot engage in the political process to protect themselves (think race laws)
There must be a “compelling government interest”
The law must be “narrowly tailored” to address this “compelling government interest”
Examples: Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967)(holding the anti-miscegenation laws are unconstitutional)
The middle ground: Heightened Scrutiny
The law must implicate a “quasi-suspect class,” that is a group that’s pretty hard to define; a group that has been historically discriminated against, but may have the ability to engage in the political process? (think gender laws)
There must be an “important government interest”
The law must be “closely related” to the “important government interest”
Examples: Craig v. Boren, 429 U.S. 190 (1976) (holding that a law providing a higher drinking age for males and a lower drinking age for females was unconstitutional)
The lowest: Rational Basis Review
All the other discriminatory laws (no special name for the class)
There must be a “legitimate government interest”
The law must be “rationally related” to the “legitimate government interest”
Examples: Armour v. Indianapolis, 566 U.S. ___ (2012) (holding that a law passed to forgive some taxes for those who chose to pay in installment, but forgiving taxes fo those who paid in full, was constitutional)
Narrow exceptions: Rational Basis with Bite
The class is not a suspect or quasi-suspect class, but there’s something else floating in the background…