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Constitutional Law

Equal Protection Clause

The EQUAL PROTECTION CLAUSE of the Fourteenth Amendment has been another bountiful source of litigation. Ratified during the aftermath of the Civil War along with the THIRTEENTH AMENDMENT, which outlawed SLAVERY, and the FIFTEENTH AMENDMENT, which protected the right to vote from discriminatory infringement, the Fourteenth Amendment was designed to promote racial equality.

Until the middle of the twentieth century, the Supreme Court interpreted the Equal Protection Clause to permit state-implemented racial SEGREGATION. Then, in BROWN V. BOARD OF EDUCATION, 347 U.S. 483, 74 S. Ct. 686, 98 L. Ed. 873 (1954), the Supreme Court declared that the institution of segregation is inherently unequal. Almost immediately after issuing the Brown decision, the Court began striking down state-implemented racial segregation at a host of public accommodations, including golf courses, beaches, and public schools. Pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment, Congress has passed a number of CIVIL RIGHTS statutes that protect African Americans and other racial groups from discrimination in the private sector. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Pub. L. No. 88-352 [42 U.S.C.A. § 2000e et seq.]), for example, prohibits RACIAL DISCRIMINATION in private employment.

Persons of any race, creed, or ethnic origin may bring a claim against a state government for discriminating against them in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Supreme Court has also relied on the Equal Protection Clause to invalidate state laws that discriminate on the basis of gender, state residency, and national citizenship, among other legislative classifications. In 1996 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Colorado constitutional amendment that discriminated against homosexuals, because it served no rational purpose (ROMER V. EVANS, 517 U.S. 620, 116 S. Ct. 1620, 134 L. Ed. 2d 855 [1996]). The CIVIL RIGHTS ACT of 1871 (17 Stat. 13 [42 U.S.C.A. § 1983]) authorizes individuals to enforce the provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment against state governments.

Members of other minority groups, such as persons who are elderly or disabled, are protected from discrimination in both the public and private sectors by federal laws that Congress has passed pursuant to its constitutionally delegated powers. The Americans with Disabilities Act (Pub. L. No. 101-336 [ codified at 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 12111 et seq.]) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (Pub. L. No. 90-202 [ codified at 29 U.S.C.A. § 621 et seq.]) are two such laws.

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