Equal Protection of the Law Definition

A good equal protection of the law definition boils down to individual-regarding equality, which is a broad term that refers to an egalitarian society where all people are treated equally, regardless of:

  • Color
  • Race
  • Cred
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender
  • Age

In addition, individualism is a vital concept in the United States, which is an idea that many American support and recognize. However, it’s worth recognizing that individual-regarding equality is one variation of equality, and it is an American variation. Equal protection under U.S. law entails a constitutional guarantee that no group or individual would be denied protection. Equal protection is also applied when rules of law are applied in all cases, including when individuals face exemption from duties more than those levied upon others in the same scenario.

Notion of Equality

The notion of equality and equal protection stems from the foundation of the nation. In 1776, Thomas Jefferson and other colonists proclaimed a “self-evident” truth regarding human equality. However, such meaning was never clearly stated. The situation of slavery was included into the U.S. political, social, and economic fabric of the nation, which contradicted the idea of equality. Many colonists owned slaves, including Jefferson, and firmly believed that the black race was inferior.

James Madison and other founding fathers created the Constitution, which safeguarded the slave trade and protected slave owner rights. Article One, Section Two of the Constitution designated a slave as only three-fifths of an individual when it came to congressional representation. Moreover, the slave codes allowed slave masters to sell, buy, and lease blacks and treated them as personal property.

Slaves owed masters unyielding obedience, and masters were free to do as they pleased to their slaves, including murdering them. The only factors that governed slave owner behavior included:

  • Common sense
  • Community mores
  • Individual conscience

There were few laws that protected slaves from abuse, and such laws were rarely enforced. The U.S. Supreme Court reinforced the institution of slavery in 1857, ruling that slaves were not citizens within the confines of the Constitution. The court further held that slaves were only property that did not have constitutional protections.

The Fourteenth Amendment

The Fourteenth Amendment, which was adopted after the Civil War, prohibited states from denying individuals equal protection under law. This meant that states must treat all people in the same way as others.

Private discrimination was not a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, even though it applied in limited cases. The Equal Protection Clause within the Fourteenth Amendment appeared to offer the idea of safeguarding former slaves against discriminatory practices. During the post-Civil War era, the Supreme Court ruled that postwar amendments guaranteed the freedom of slaves and freemen from oppression of those who exerted domination over them.

Therefore, the equal protection clause was minimally applied, except for cases involving racial discrimination.

  • Example: The Fourteenth Amendment invalidated grandfather clauses and literacy tests when it came to voting rights.

The intent behind the equal protection clause was circumvented 80 years after the inclusion of the Fourteenth Amendment. It was not until Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 that the courts revised course and officially rendered segregation unconstitutional. According to Justice Earl Warren, the idea of equal protection was changed and applied to cases surrounding the following:

  • Exclusionary zoning
  • Municipal services
  • Education financing
  • Welfare benefits

Equal protection became an important source of litigation in matters dealing with the Constitution. Further, Chief Justices William H. Rehnquist and Warren E. Burger handled cases that added a list of situations that qualified under adjudication under the notion of equal protection, which included:

  • Voting
  • Abortion
  • Rights and status of immigrants
  • Court access

During the Bush v. Gore case, which stemmed from the 2000 presidential election, the Supreme Court ruled that selective ballot recounts in Florida violated the equal protection clause and preserved Bush’s narrow victory in Florida, including the electoral college. The aim of equal protection was to force states to govern in an impartial manner and not draw distinctions between persons based on differences that are not material to governmental objectives. Therefore, the equal protection clause was crucial in the safeguarding of civil rights.

To get a better grasp of an equal protection of the law definition, you can post your job on UpCounsel’s website. UpCounsel’s lawyers have graduated from the some of the best laws schools in the nation and will give you more information on equal protection and what you can do if someone violated your rights. In addition, they will provide further clarification on the inner-workings of the Constitution.