Johnson v. California

Key Facts– The California Department of Corrections (CDC) had an unwritten policy of racially segregating prisoners for up to 60 days when they entered a new corrections facility. Petitioner sues to overturn this policy.

Issue– Is strict scrutiny the proper standard of review for this policy?

Holding– Yes

Result– Strict scrutiny applied to all race-based classifications by the state, with this particular classification remanded for consideration in that light

Reasoning– All government racial classifications are subject to strict scrutiny, because there is a presumption they have a sinister purpose, or could have. Thus, the government must be pursuing a very important end to be permitted to discriminate, and it must actually achieve, or be critical to achieving, that end. Separate is, as a matter of law, not equal. At the same time, prison systems are a place where government power is at its apex, so their obligation to prove they had a prison safety interest in this policy is not completely fatal.

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